By Morris Phillips
Lucas Giolito was determined to rebound from a disastrous 2018 season, and realize his enornmous potential. Chris Bassitt wasn’t happy with how the Chicago White Sox lost faith in him, and traded him in 2014.
Those two motivational tales made for a whale of a pitcher’s duel on Sunday at Guaranteed Rate Field in Chicago. Giolito and Bassitt combined for 20 strikeouts while allowing just three walks over 13 innings of work, and just one mistake: Matt Olson’s home run off Giolito that stood as the difference in the A’s 2-0 getaway day win.
For Bassitt, Sunday’s seven innings of scoreless work may qualify as the apex of his major league career. After he landed in Oakland in the Jeff Samardzija trade, his career stalled. Bassitt went 1-8 in 2015, 0-2 in 2016 and didn’t pitch at all at the major league level in 2017 after Tommy John surgery in the off-season.
2018 wasn’t much better. Bassitt made just seven starts, compiling a 2-3 record.
But the A’s didn’t give up on the right-hander. Instead they promoted Bassitt in late April, and were finally rewarded. Bassitt has taken his turn in the rotation every fifth day since, compiling career-best numbers in wins, ERA (tied with 2015), innings pitched and strikeouts. Then on Sunday, Bassitt kept ascending, topping Giolito, the All-Star and White Sox staff ace in a tense, low-scoring affair.
“I think I’ve said this a couple times this season, ‘That might be the best game I’ve seen him pitch,’ but that one ranks right up there,” said manager Bob Melvin. “I know he was up for the challenge.”
Bassitt allowed Tim Anderson’s one-out double in the second inning, but quickly settled down, retiring Jose Abreu and James McCann on ground outs to quell the threat. Bassitt wasn’t stretched further, spreading the three singles and two walks he allowed across the other six innings he pitched.
He was facing the White Sox for the fourth time–going 1-1 in three, previous starts–but he hadn’t shown them this level of proficiency. Bassitt made it clear afterwards that it was point of emphasis.
“Every time I pitch against these guys for my career, I’m going to try to prove to them they made a mistake,” Bassitt said.
Giolito walked 90 batters and compiled a 6.18 ERA in 2018, numbers that were among the worst for AL starting pitchers. But some adjustments in the off-season–most importantly, refining and simplifying his delivery–have the Los Angeles native pitching at a level befitting his status as one of MLB’s top five prospects as a 21-year old in 2016. Now 24, Giolito opened the season with nine wins in his first 10 decisions, made the All-Star team, and came in to Sunday’s appearance rolling with four quality starts in his last five appearances.
Giolito had the A’s swinging and missing, striking out every batter in the A’s lineup with the exception of Jurickson Profar. But one pitch was his undoing, a fastball that nabbed too much of the middle of the plate against Olson, who parked it in the right field bleachers for his 23rd home run of the season.
The A’s ended their week in Chicago with a 3-3 record, not disappointing until the week of the streaking Tampa Bay Rays is factored in. The A’s return to the Bay Area for games against the Giants Tuesday and Wednesday trailing the Rays by a 1 1/2 games for the league’s second wild card spot.
The A’s schedule may be their biggest enemy down the stretch run. With 43 full games remaining (and the remainder of a suspended game with Detroit, in which they lead 5-3 after seven innings), the A’s have seven games with the Astros, six with the Yankees, and none against the Rays, Indians, Twins and Red Sox, their competitors for the wild card. Without the ability to affect the fortunes of the teams they’re competing against, they’ll need to hold their own with the division-leading Yankees and Astros while taking full advantage of the Royals, Mariners, Tigers in the 13 combined games they have against those clubs.
On Tuesday, Brett Anderson faces the Giants’ Madison Bumgarner at 6:45pm.