Story by Brian Brownfield (Martinez News-Gazette)
Photos by Tod Fierner (Martinez News-Gazette)
OAKLAND, Calif. – The 2020 American League playoffs began on Tuesday afternoon with the second-seeded Oakland Athletics looking to reverse recent postseason fortunes against the upstart seventh-seeded Chicago White Sox. Playing at the friendly confines of the Oakland Coliseum was supposed to be an advantage, but the White Sox turned it into a bandbox, hitting three home runs and using superb pitching to shut down the A’s in Game 1 with a 4-1 victory.
The story of the game was Lucas Giolitto. The right-hander for the White Sox made his first career postseason start on Tuesday and did not disappoint. He retired the first 18 batters of the game, becoming just the fifth pitcher in postseason history to have a perfect game through six innings. Tommy La Stella ended his bid for history with a leadoff single in the 7th, but was promptly stranded.
The A’s were able to make some noise in the bottom of the eighth inning as they knocked Giolitto out of the game. A four-pitch walk to Mark Canha opened up the frame, followed by a line drive single from Jake Lamb. This chased Giolitto from the game and brought in Evan Marshall, who got Ramon Laureano to bounce into a fielder’s choice to score Canha, making it 4-1 White Sox. Sean Murphy added a single with two outs to bring the tying run up to the plate, but Tommy La Stella bounced into a fielder’s choice to end the inning.
The final line for Giolitto was reflective of a typical front-line starting pitcher: 7-plus innings, two hits, one run, one walk, and eight strikeouts.
Jesus Luzardo drew the start in Game 1, and at times, he dazzled with his mix of off-speed pitches complementing his fastball. That was evident in his five early strikeouts, including four in the first two innings. The issue for Luzardo was his fastball command, which appeared to be a bit off until he grooved in a couple that proved to be costly for he and the Athletics.
After escaping a jam in the first, Luzardo surrendered his first home run of the game to White Sox right fielder Adam Engel, the first home run of the 2020 postseason. Engel fell behind 0-2, but Luzardo left a fastball over the middle of the plate, and Engel deposited it just over the extended wall in left center, giving Chicago a 1-0 lead in the second.
The third inning was the biggest blow. After Tim Anderson led off with his second single of the game, Jose Abreu came strolling up with two down and Anderson in scoring position. The A’s opted to pitch to the potential AL-MVP winner, and he made them pay. Ahead in the count 2-0, Abreu crushed a Luzardo fastball to deep left center, giving the White Sox a 3-0 advantage. This proved to severely scar the final line for Luzardo, exiting after 3.1 innings, allowing six hits, and three runs, while striking out five without allowing a walk.
Among noteworthy tidbits from Tuesday’s game…the White Sox improved to an MLB-best 15-0 in 2020 when the opposition starts a left-handed pitcher…the last time the Athletics won a playoff series after losing the first game was the 1974 ALCS against the Baltimore Orioles.
The A’s will attempt to fight off elimination on Wednesday in Game 2 of the Wild Card Series. It will be a matchup of two of the top-three pitchers in terms of ERA in the American League, as the White Sox will throw Dallas Keuchel (6-2, 1.99 ERA) and the Athletics will start the reigning the American League Pitcher of the Month, Chris Bassitt (5-2, 2.29 ERA). First pitch from the Coliseum is scheduled for 12:00 pm.