Shane Bieber, the presumptive American League Cy Young winner, looked nothing like the sort against the New York Yankees in Game 1 of Cleveland’s wild card series. He trailed 2-0 after three pitches thanks to an Aaron Judge homer, and he never really settled in afterward. The seven strikeouts over 4⅔ innings is the only thing indicative of his reputation, but it was overshadowed by the nine hits, two walks and two homers.
It’s hard to say the Indians should have won this Bieber start, because he matched up against a fellow No. 1 starter in Gerrit Cole, and Cole is backed by a better offense. It’s fair to say the Indians shouldn’t have lost 12-3 like they did. Baseball’s unpredictability is a big part of its charm, but every team and its fans carry certain expectations into a game, and thus certain reactions to how a team wins or loses.
Bieber’s jarring failure made the White Sox’s triumph in their Game 1 all the more satisfying. And not just because the Indians inadvertently “won” this matchup with the Yankees by beating the Pirates on the season’s final day while the White Sox lost to the Cubs.
It’s mostly because the White Sox beat the Athletics by a 4-1 score, and in the specific manner they were supposed to beat the Athletics in Game 1, ever since Bob Melvin assigned the start to lefty Jesús Luzardo. Tim Anderson tweaked Oakland for steering into the storm of the White Sox’s 14-0 record against southpaws during the regular season, saying the A’s “hadn’t done their homework.” Instead of getting burned by the trash talk, Anderson did the burning. He matched the production of the entire Oakland lineup on the afternoon with three hits.
That said, the game could have been a lot closer if Luzardo doesn’t throw this pitch on a 2-0 count to José Abreu.
Indeed, green means go.
Abreu did what he was supposed to do with a cookie, the biggest swing of many convincing hacks by the White Sox’s righties against Luzardo’s stuff. After that, Lucas Giolito did more than what he was supposed to do with a 3-0 lead, and the White Sox locked in a relatively smooth victory, especially when considering the team’s lack of postseason experience.
It’s fair to question what this series looks like if Luzardo pitches around Abreu, especially since he struck out James McCann on three pitches immediately afterward for one-third of McCann’s silver sombrero. As much as the White Sox were supposed to damage a left-handed pitcher, the left-handed pitcher in question was supposed to make sure that he wouldn’t let Abreu decide the game if avoidance was an option.
Luzardo didn’t have much to say about it after the game, besides the only thing to say.
“Obviously, the guy’s an MVP-caliber type hitter, so you’ve got to be careful,” he said. “I made a mistake. That’s not where I intended to put it.”
The White Sox scored only one run over the remaining 5⅔ innings, when Yasmani Grandal flung a weak Joakim Soria well out to right. It was a welcome sign of life against right-handed pitching, but that otherwise lackluster performance was also par for the course.
That’ll be tested later today when Oakland rolls out Chris Bassitt against Dallas Keuchel, because it’s now less clear how the White Sox will fare if everybody involved does what they’re supposed to do. Keuchel is supposed to deliver a start of a certain quality, but Bassitt limited right-handed hitters to a .223/.273/.317 line this season, and he allowed just one run over 19⅔ innings in September, coming on a solo shot. He makes righties respect the sinker in and the cutter away, and that’s a combo the White Sox have struggled with. This isn’t even a theoretical exercise here, because Bassitt shut out the White Sox over 13 innings in two starts last year.
If this game adheres as closely to what’s supposed to happen as Game 1 did, I’m guessing this series goes to a Game 3 after a low-scoring affair. That said, whether it’s Luzardo against Abreu or Bieber against all the Yankees, it’s hard to keep baseball so orderly, especially when all the teams are respectable to excellent. Fans tend to only fixate on the foreseeable failures, so take a moment to enjoy a positive instance of predictability. It’d be worth savoring for a day even if it weren’t the White Sox’s first postseason victory since 2008.
(Tim Anderson portrait by Carl Skanberg)