Lucas Giolito quietly walked to the mound for the ninth inning, piped-in fake crowd noise wafting through the ballpark and cardboard cutouts dotting the stands.
Moments later, in this strangest season of all, the Chicago White Sox right-hander threw the final pitch in a truly bizarre performance.
A no-fan no-no.
With the seats at Guaranteed Rate Field empty, Giolito pitched the first no-hitter of the pandemic-delayed year, striking out 13 in leading the White Sox over the Pittsburgh Pirates 4-0 Tuesday night.
“2020 has been a very strange year,” said Giolito, who conducted a postgame interview while wearing a mask. “Obviously a lot of weird stuff going on with COVID and the state of the world, so may as well throw this in the mix.”
Sounds like he didn’t mind that nobody saw it. Well, almost no one.
After right fielder Adam Engel extended on the run to catch Erik Gonzalez’s slicing drive toward the line for the final out, the hollers of Giolito’s teammates in the middle of the diamond echoed around the stadium.
“I’m just stoked for Lucas and so happy and ecstatic and emotional for Lucas,” Engel said. “It stinks we couldn’t celebrate the way most no-hitters get celebrated.”
The smallest crowd listed for any no-hitter in the majors over the last 100 years came in 1944, when a mere 1,014 watched Cincinnati’s Clyde Shoun beat the Braves at Crosley Field.
Nowhere close to that number on this night, not with the park that holds over 40,000 closed to fans because of virus protocols.
Suffice to say, years from now when White Sox fans fondly remember Giolito’s gem, there will not be, say, 100,000 or so people claiming they were there to see it in person.
At one point early in the game, some members of grounds crew drifted in sight, but that was about it outside of the teams.
An All-Star last year, the 26-year-old Giolito (3-2) matched his career high for strikeouts set in his previous start against Detroit.
Only a four-pitch walk to Gonzalez leading off the fourth inning got in Giolito’s way of perfection. That was only runner he permitted while throwing 101 pitches
“I’ve been working for this type of game for a while now and it’s really cool that we got it done,” Giolito said.
Giolito relied on his changeup and fastball to make quick work of the Pirates, who came into the game batting just .229 and have the worst record in the majors. Six of their starters finished the game hitting under .199 this season.
The White Sox rushed toward the mound after the final out in Giolito’s first career no-hitter. Giolito hugged catcher James McCann as the Chicago players joined the party.
The South Side of Chicago normally rattles with fireworks after a home win — this is the club that gave the game the exploding scoreboard — but the park remained silent as the dugout emptied.
Giolito, meanwhile, was locked in his own zone in the later innings, fully aware of what was at stake.
“After the seventh, six more outs, looking at who I was facing, became very, very, very possible,” he said, “and then we were able to get it done.”
Giolito said his approach never wavered.
“Just staying with the same, like, mental routine for every single pitch. One pitch at a time. Full focus, full execution, straight through the target,” he said.
Giolito pitched the 19th no-hitter in White Sox history — second most to the Dodgers’ 23 — and first since Philip Humber threw a perfect game at Seattle in 2012. This was the seventh time the Pirates have been held hitless, with Washington’s Max Scherzer having done it in 2015.
White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson made a nifty play on a grounder by Bryan Reynolds up the middle in the seventh to preserve the gem, helped by first baseman Jose Abreu’s stretch at the bag.
In the ninth, Gonzalez hit a liner that Engel, a fleet center fielder for most of his career, caught on the run at knee-high height.
“Yeah man, I think I got it,” Gonzalez said. “With that at-bat, I was a little bit mad because I don’t want to be part of history.”
Giolito improved to 30-28 in his big league career. He made his debut with Washington in 2016, then was traded after that season to the White Sox in a package for outfielder Adam Eaton.
Giolito gave up a major league-high 118 earned runs in 2018, his first full season in Chicago.
“I was pretty much bottom of the league in almost every stat,” Giolito said. “I kind of had to … learn from failure to learn my true potential.”
He added: “I always envisioned that I’d throw a no-hitter in the big leagues.”
Giolito threw the first no-hitter at Guaranteed Rate Field since Minnesota’s Francisco Liriano did it in 2011.
The White Sox, who’ve won eight of their last nine, ended the Pirates’ season-best winning streak at three games.
Giolito was dominant in his previous start, too, fanning 13 against Detroit and allowing just three hits in seven innings. The victory over Pittsburgh was his third career shutout.
Chicago’s first three batters reached in the second and all three came home one at a time after Engel’s groundout and singles Anderson and Eloy Jimenez. McCann added a sacrifice fly in the third off Steven Brault (0-1).
Pirates: RH reliever Keone Kela was available to pitch after leaving Friday’s loss to Milwaukee with forearm tightness. … Infielders Colin Moran (collision) and Kevin Newman (abdomen) also were on the bench after leaving Sunday’s game.
White Sox: McCann stayed in the game after being struck near his left hand by a second-inning pitch from Brault. … Jimenez appeared to be getting treatment near the mound after the celebration, but manager Rick Renteria said he walked off under his own power.
LHP Dallas Keuchel (4-2, 2.65) looks for his third straight win Wednesday afternoon against Pirates RHP Trevor Williams (1-4, 3.70).
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