CHICAGO — The Yankees scored seven runs in the eighth inning to claim a 15-7 series-opening victory over the White Sox Thursday night at Guaranteed Rate Field.
They began that rally after reliever Joey Kelly retired the first two batters of the frame on five pitches, which the veteran followed with three walks and Aaron Judge’s perfectly-placed two-run infield single up the middle. Such was the symbolic inning for one of the stranger and more entertaining games of the 2022 season.
“I can’t believe it,” said White Sox manager Tony La Russa in an all-encompassing sort of commentary. “But I saw it, so I believe it.”
Here are three significant performances to come from this setback for the White Sox, dropping them back to 15-15.
Cease’s feast or famine outing
White Sox starter Dylan Cease matched a career-high with 11 strikeouts in what became a no-decision after the White Sox rallied. The right-hander hit that strikeout mark in just four innings, joining former teammate Carlos Rodón (July 25, 2017 at Wrigley) as the only pitchers in AL/NL history with a 4-inning start and 11 strikeouts. (Rodón also doubled and drove in two for good measure in that 7-2 setback on the North Side.)
But in between those 11 punchouts among his 12 outs recorded, Cease allowed a season-high six earned runs. It was a quick-strike approach for the Yankees, who used a pair of two-run shots from Giancarlo Stanton to knock out Cease.
“One of them, the second home run, was definitely just a yanked fastball,” Cease said. “He got me.”
“I don’t expect to throw two touchdowns on a night when Dylan Cease is pitching and the kind of start that he’s been off to,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said.
Entering Thursday’s contest, Cease had given up nine earned runs and one home run over his first 34 innings. Let’s not lose sight of Thursday’s mound dominance in becoming the first opposing pitcher to strike out at least 10 Yankees this season.
His 11th career double-digit strikeout game moved him into a tie with Billy Pierce for eighth-most in franchise history, as Cease also moved into a tie for the Major League lead with 58 K’s over 38 innings. He recorded career strikeout No. 400 when fanning Anthony Rizzo in the first, making him the fastest White Sox pitcher to 400 in 331 2/3 innings, surpassing Chris Sale (379 2/3 innings), per Elias. And he became the first White Sox starting pitcher since 1961 to get each of his first eight outs of a game via strikeout (Elias).
Yet, all of these accomplishments did not come on a winning night.
“You had to see it to believe it,” La Russa said. “If he missed, they took advantage. Evidently he was sharp with 11 punchouts.”
“They capitalized really well tonight,” said Cease, who had 20 swings and misses, per Statcast. “It’s definitely the weirdest stat line I’ve ever been a part of.”
There’s no question the White Sox missed Yoán Moncada as he worked his way back from a right oblique strain suffered in the last week of Spring Training. How much, you might ask?
Take a look at his at-bat in the seventh inning as an example.
With two runners on, nobody out and the Yankees holding a three-run lead, Moncada connected on a 98.7 mph fastball from Jonathan Loaisiga for a game-tying blast to center. Moncada returned to the White Sox lineup Monday after not only being healthy, but also in a good place in terms of plate approach.
“He’s going to be a big asset for us,” La Russa said. “We’re glad to get him back, he’s already taking good swings. But that was clutch. All of a sudden we’re tied at home.”
Kelly also made his White Sox debut this week after being sidelined by nerve issues in his right biceps. In the course of a few moments on Thursday, he went from seemingly dominant to allowing five runs on four walks and one hit.
“Walked some guys. And it doesn’t matter, two outs, one out, no outs. Walks are not it,” Kelly said. “You know, I’d be a lot more — I guess not as uneasy if they were hitting rockets everywhere. Free passes are not it.”
La Russa opted for left-hander Tanner Banks after Kelly walked the left-handed hitting Rizzo to reload the bases. With a 9-7 deficit already in place, La Russa took a chance on the 30-year-old rookie against Giancarlo Stanton to give the White Sox one more rally opportunity in this crazy game. That chance didn’t work.
“If you pitch [Kendall] Graveman he can’t pitch tomorrow probably,” La Russa said. “If we got out of that I was going to pitch Liam [Hendriks] in the ninth, and if it was still tied I was going to pitch [Matt] Foster in the 10th.
“At that point we’re already down. I don’t think you can waste an arm. Not waste an arm, use up an arm.”