“Bro, there won’t be any home runs today.”
Those were the famous last words of Chicago White Sox pitcher Lucas Giolito after Dylan Cease predicted that Tim Anderson was about to start gardening at Wrigley Field last week.
Giolito’s explanation made perfect sense.
It was cold and rainy, with 23 mph winds blowing from the north for the opening game of the City Series. Leading up to the third inning, Anderson faced Keegan Thompson, who hadn’t homered in 17⅔ innings going into the inning.
But Cease was not deterred.
“I believe in him,” Cease told Giolito. ‘I’m going to ‘Home run’ over the Sloan (sign) in the right field. Oppo home run.’”
Anderson quickly grabbed a slashed fastball on the first pitch and delivered it over the Sloan ad in right field. As the Sox dugout feasted, Cease shook his head.
“I’m dying a legend now,” he said. “That’s all I can say.”
The accidental moment was videotaped for posterity and may have to go into a 2022 time capsule if the Sox make it to the World Series. Stop recording a microphone for the NBC Sports Chicago broadcast and knew his words would be remembered.
But anyone can predict a home run before a teammate’s at bat and be right every now and then. Predicting exactly where Anderson’s would land in Wrigley, Cease became “Soxtradamus.” On his Instagram account, Cease boldly called it the “best shot since Babe Ruth” before asking, “What am I supposed to predict now?”
Everything seems to be going well for Cease these days.
While preparing to start Thursday in the opener of a four-game big series with the New York Yankees, the 26-year-old tied the American League lead with 47 strikeouts, 28 in his last 18 innings. He had a 1.50 ERA over those three starts and dominated from the start.
“Feels great,” Cease said during a recent sit-down in the Sox dugout. “In any case, it’s a big confidence boost to know that the process we’re following is working. It’s just a sequel (from 2021), another year of experience, getting used to how you prepare and what you are going to experience.”
The White Sox knew Cease had this in him. After all, he was the Cubs’ best pitcher when he was acquired by the Eloy Jiménez deal in the summer of 2017. But at the beginning of his career there were problems with the command. Even after he made 12 starts in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, the Sox did not trust him to start in the postseason series against the Oakland Athletics. Manager Rick Renteria wasted Cease for an inning of middle relief in Game 2 before putting in the rest of the bullpen in the disastrous Game 3 loss that led to Renteria’s exit.
Stop dropping his walkrate from 5.2 per 9 innings to 3.7 last season, 13-7 with 226 strikeouts, third in the American League and tied with the eighth highest in franchise history. He called 2021 “the first year I proved more or less consistently” himself.
But in his postseason-start against the Houston Astros in Game 3 of the AL Division Series, Cease was pulled with two outs by manager Tony La Russa in the third inning when he walked his third batter of the inning. The Sox trailed 3-1 in a game to be won, and La Russa had no patience for Cease’s control problems.
It was a disappointing end to an otherwise successful season, and now Cease is building on those lessons and evolving into one of the league’s most feared starters.
“This is the first year where I feel like I’m putting out my best self most of the time now,” he said, adding that the support he’s gotten from Sox fans “is definitely hype. “
With Lance Lynn recovering from right knee surgery, Cease’s achievements have become an integral part of the Sox staying afloat in the Central. And as Giolito enters his 2023 walking season without a realistic renewal offer, the Sox can count on Cease and Michael Kopech to anchor the rotation on the road.
Kopech led all starters on Wednesday with a 0.93 ERA. Cease was third in strikeouts per 9 innings with 12.4.
“They’ve both been everything we could have asked for in the season so far,” general manager Rick Hahn said Monday. “Dylan was clearly a bit further (this spring) than Michael… but Dylan has continued to do what we saw for most of the second half of last season, which is establishing himself as one of the elite starters in this competition.”
The future looks bright for Cease, who not only lived up to the early hype but also saw the video of his “Called Shot 2.0” at Wrigley Field go viral.
“It definitely exploded a day or two later,” he said with a grin. “I haven’t heard much about it since then. I really don’t know what happened. I blurted it out and half a second later – bang – it happened. It was weird.”
Having built up a reputation as a fortune teller, Cease has been asked by some to make predictions on the spot. He has so far declined to do so, but reserves the right to make more predictions when the time is right.
“We have to save them until it really matters,” he said. “If I feel something really strong, I might throw something out. But for now we’ll make it.”