The Pirates were visiting the White Sox for a two-game series. Yes, this was interleague play, but not the usual interleague schedule. With the 2020 COVID-19 travel protocols in place, the schedules were designed to create matchups that would minimize travel. AL Central teams like the White Sox played NL Central teams like the Pirates. This game was about the halfway point of the 60-game season, which had started in late July. As expected for an August night in Chicago, it was 86 degrees and 50 percent humidity with the temperature dropping gradually as the humidity climbed through the evening.
The Pirates were last in the NL Central at 7-17. Three of their wins had come in their previous three games when they swept Milwaukee. The White Sox at 17-12 were second in the AL Central, only 2½ games back of the Twins.
Lucas Giolito’s (2-2, 3.89) season had gotten off to a rough start. His Opening Day outing was only 3⅔ innings and he allowed seven earned runs. After that, though, he’d averaged over six innings per start with a 2.32 ERA over the next five games. He’d struck out 13 in seven innings in his previous start. Often referred to as the worst pitcher in the American League in 2018,1 he dedicated that offseason to both the mental and physical sides of the game,2 and returned in 2019 as an effective starter. He was named to the 2019 All-Star Game and ranked sixth in the Cy Young Award voting.
Giolito faced Erik González to start the game. He popped out to first. Adam Frazier was Giolito’s first strikeout victim of the day for the second out. Bryan Reynolds flied out to center for a quick 11-pitch inning.
Steven Brault (NR, 3.00 ERA) was pitching for the Pirates. The left-hander had allowed no runs in his four starts in 2020, although that amounted to only 12 innings.3 He started by walking Tim Anderson. Eloy Jiménez flied out. That brought up José Abreu. He had been named Player of the Week for the previous week for his memorable offensive performance: seven homers in his last seven games.4 Intentionally or unintentionally, Brault walked him on four pitches. But Edwin Encarnación popped up behind first and Yoán Moncada lined out to keep the game scoreless.
Giolito continued his efficiency in the second. Josh Bell grounded out on the first pitch. Gregory Polanco looked at two strikes, swung at the third, and headed back to the dugout. JT Riddle struck out as well.
There was a power surge in the bottom of the second — both on and off the field. Rookie Luis Robert beat out an infield grounder even though he slipped a bit getting out of the box. James McCann (or maybe just the knob of his bat) was hit by a pitch. Pittsburgh challenged the HBP call, but it was upheld on review.5 Danny Mendick walked on four pitches to load the bases — and a power surge hit the park, knocking out the cameras, some of the lights, and the broadcasts. But there was enough light on the field to keep playing, so they did. Adam Engel grounded out to first, scoring Robert. Anderson and Jiménez each singled, scoring two more runs for a 3-0 Chicago lead. Brault got out of the jam without further damage when Abreu grounded into a double play. Although the White Sox scored three runs, this inning ended an unusual scoring streak: They had scored all of their last 20 runs, over four games, on home runs.
In the top of the third, Giolito struck out Cole Tucker swinging and John Ryan Murphy looking. Between the two strikeouts, Jarrod Dyson flied out to right fielder Engel just into foul territory. The combined batting average for these three hitters was under .200; Indeed, the combined batting average for the Pirates starting lineup was .205, barely clearing the Mendoza line.6
Encarnación doubled off the center-field wall to open the White Sox half of the third. Brault walked Moncada, his fourth free pass of the game. Robert blooped a hit into center between the fielders. Seeing the opportunity, Encarnación rounded third, but the third-base coach held up the stop sign. He reversed course but didn’t make it back to the bag in time; Riddle tagged him out. Encarnación signaled for a challenge, but no dice; he headed back to the dugout muttering to himself. With McCann batting, both runners advanced on a wild pitch, putting Moncada into position to score on McCann’s sacrifice fly. Mendick flied out to right, but the White Sox had a 4-0 lead.
The Pirates had their first baserunner in the top of the fourth, when Giolito walked González on four pitches. Frazier popped out to left, with shortstop Anderson making the catch a couple of feet in front of the slightly bemused left fielder Jiménez. Reynolds struck out. Bell lined out into the shift; the ball was caught by third baseman Moncada stationed closer to second base.
Nick Tropeano took over from Brault in the bottom of the fourth. This was his debut for the Pirates. He had been selected off waivers from the Yankees on August 11. His career ERA of 4.51 in 42 games and his 2019 ERA of 9.88 with the Angels did not look promising, but his four innings of relief pitching in this game were solid.7 All he allowed in the fourth was a stand-up double by Jiménez that hugged the third-base line into the corner. Abreu made a bid for a home run, but the wind held his fly in the park for Reynolds in left.
Giolito struck out both Polanco and Tucker for the second time in the top of the fifth. With Riddle’s groundout on the first pitch, Giolito had completed five innings on only 58 pitches.
In the bottom of the fifth, Moncada hit a one-out pop fly to left. Now it was the Pirates’ left fielder’s turn to be bemused as third baseman Riddle caught the ball right in front of Reynolds. Robert hit a first-pitch double off the base of the center-field wall, but was left at second when McCann flied out.
Murphy was Giolito’s only strikeout in the top of the sixth. Dyson and González grounded out to complete another clean inning. The throw from Anderson on González’s groundout was off-line, but Abreu tagged him in the baseline for the out. The White Sox TV announcers, being careful not to say “no-hitter,” started counting down the outs.
Tropeano worked his only clean inning in the bottom of the sixth.
Giolito really needed his defense in the top of the seventh. Frazier opened with a grounder toward second. Mendick charged the ball and made a good throw to first. Reynolds grounded to short; Anderson spun and made a great one-hop throw to Abreu to get the runner by a step. Bell struck out on three pitches — no defense needed.
All Tropeano allowed in the bottom of the seventh was a single by Abreu. Even with the single, he needed only nine pitches for the inning.
Giolito needed little help from his defense in the eighth. He struck out Polanco for the third time, got Riddle out on a foul pop, and struck out Tucker for the third time as well. Of course, by this time, everyone in the dugout was ignoring Giolito, who was pacing by himself, drinking water or Red Bull and wiping away sweat as the humidity climbed.
Dovydas Neverauskas relieved Tropeano for the bottom of the eighth. He allowed a one-out single to McCann.
If there had been any fans in the park, they would have been standing and cheering for the top of the ninth. As it was, only the two teams and the grounds crew were there in person. Thousands were watching on the broadcast feeds or online.8
Dyson was first up. He was called out on appeal to third-base umpire Jose Navas for Giolito’s 13th and final strikeout. Pinch-hitter José Osuna was out on a foul pop. That brought up González, the only baserunner Giolito had allowed.9
González swung at two strikes, then lined toward right. Engel made a running catch to preserve the no-hitter, the first one of the 2020 season and the 19th in White Sox history.
Before running out to hug his pitcher, McCann turned to home-plate umpire CB Bucknor and said, “You’re part of this,” acknowledging his work behind the plate.10 COVID protocols notwithstanding, there was the usual hugging, joyful tears, jersey-pulling, and Gatorade bath.
To the surprise of no one, Giolito earned the AL Pitcher of the Week award. He (and James McCann) also received custom rings from White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf, with the number 27 set in diamonds.11 As always in a no-hitter, the catcher’s pitch calling was a key element.12
Although this was Giolito’s first major-league no-hitter, he did throw a seven-inning Triple-A no-hitter in the first game of a doubleheader on May 25, 2017.13
I was at Giolito’s debut game with the Nationals on June 28, 2016. I’ve always followed his career, and was thrilled when he turned his career around in the offseason after 2018.
In addition to Baseball Reference, Retrosheet, and the sources cited in the Notes, the author reviewed the broadcasts on MLB.tv.
1 Ricky O’Donnell, “Lucas Giolito Threw a No-Hitter Only Two Years After Being the Worst Pitcher in Baseball,” msn.com, August 26, 2020. https://www.msn.com/en-us/sports/mlb/lucas-giolito-threw-a-no-hitter-only-two-years-after-being-the-worst-pitcher-in-baseball/ar-BB18nhjc. Retrieved January 13, 2021. For example, Giolito allowed the most earned runs (118) and walks (90) in the major leagues in 2018.
2 Jesse Pantuosco, “Lucas Giolito Scouts His Opponents by Playing ‘MLB The Show’ Before Starts,” radio.com, September 30, 2020. https://www.radio.com/sports/mlb/lucas-giolito-scouts-opponents-by-playing-mlb-the-show . Retrieved January 13, 2021.
3 His 3.00 ERA came from a single relief appearance on August 7 in which he faced six batters and retired none of them, giving up three hits, three walks, and four runs. Pittsburgh did not try that experiment again: The rest of his 2020 appearances were as a starter.
4 In honor of his award, the White Sox broadcast opened with a replay of his homers set to the finale of the 1812 Overture. He was also the AL Player of the Month for August.
5 The super slow-mo showed the ball hitting the knob of the bat, and perhaps the edge of his batting glove.
6 By the end of the game, their combined batting average was below .200.
7 He finished 2020 with a 1.15 ERA in 15⅔ innings pitched.
8 This was the free game of the day on MLB.com. Also, MLB’s general policy is that if a no-hitter is in progress, access is free even to nonsubscribers in the late innings. Fans would have been alerted on social media.
9 That one walk that precluded a perfect game also reduced his Bill James Game Score from 100 to 99 — still a great one for the history books.
10 Brett Ballatini, “From the Locker Room: James McCann, on Lucas Giolito’s No-Hitter,” si.com, August 26, 2021. https://www.si.com/mlb/whitesox/games/from-the-locker-room-james-mccann-on-lucas-giolitos-no-hitter. Retrieved February 25, 2021.
11 Video clip from MLB media. mlb.com/video/search?q=Player%20=%20[%22Lucas%20Giolito%22]%20Order%20By%20Timestamp. Retrieved January 3, 2021.
12 Of the 101 pitches he threw, 47 were four-seam fastballs, 38 changeups, and 16 sliders. This ratio is comparable to his other 2020 games. baseballsavant.mlb.com/gamefeed?game_pk=631499&game_date=2020-8-25.
13 “Lucas Giolito Tosses Seven-Inning No-Hitter,” milb.com, May 25, 2017. .milb.com/news/lucas-giolito-tosses-seven-inning-no-hitter-232461308. Retrieved January 3, 2021.