Yasmani Grandal was the one who got hit in the head.
Nick Williams was the one who got showered in bottled water and Gatorade.
Nick Madrigal was the one who slid across home plate.
But the hero of the White Sox walk-off winner against the Cleveland Indians on Monday night? According to the team, it was the guy who left the game in the sixth inning.
“To me the biggest hero the night is Keuchel,” White Sox manager Tony La Russa said after the 4-3 victory.
Dallas Keuchel showed up to Guaranteed Rate Field not knowing that he was going to make his third start of the season. Two hours before first pitch, he was subbed in for Carlos Rodón, the White Sox scheduled starter who was a late scratch with an upset stomach.
Starting pitchers are creatures of habit, with very set routines not just the day they pitch but the four days in between. Sticking to that routine is crucial, what White Sox ace Lucas Giolito credits as much as anything for his transformation into one of the best pitchers in the game.
Keuchel, though pitching on regular rest thanks to an off day and a rain out, didn’t get the luxury of sticking to his routine. But for most of Monday night’s outing, he was untouchable. He yielded a two-run home run, yes, and left after loading the bases with nobody out in the sixth. But he sat down 12 straight Cleveland hitters at one point, stepping in for Rodón and stepping up with a gutsy performance early in the season.
“I kind of got a little bit of a heads up. You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do sometimes,” Keuchel said. “We’ve been taxing the pen a lot, so I felt like I was trying to do the best I could.
“I try to do everything I can, more to help myself out because I want to be the best pitcher I possibly can. But also, in times like this, the rarity is to step up and fill in the void.”
But Keuchel wasn’t the only White Sox pitcher to take a turn delivering some heroics Monday.
The much maligned South Side bullpen stepped up in equal fashion, finally showing after a week-plus of late-game letdowns how dominant the unit can be when firing on all cylinders.
Evan Marshall relieved Keuchel, stepping into that bases-loaded, nobody-out jam. He got three straight outs, allowing the tying run to score on a sacrifice fly but preventing any more damage than that in a huge performance. He struck out one more batter in the seventh before yielding to Aaron Bummer, who despite putting two of the three batters he faced on base didn’t allow any runs.
It was Codi Heuer, though, who was the most dominant for the longest time. He recorded the final out of the seventh, bailing out Bummer, then threw a perfect eighth. He got the first two in the ninth before giving up a two-out double, then recorded his fourth strikeout of the evening to end the inning.
All three relievers kept the game tied long enough for a White Sox offense that isn’t exactly clicking at the moment to cash in on the bizarre finish: the winning run scoring when an errant throw hit Grandal’s helmet.
It was the future the White Sox predicted during the spring, the one where the South Side relief corps was baseball’s best. Through their early season stumbles, La Russa has maintained the unit is a strength of the team. Monday, the relievers made him look 100 percent right.
“Any time we can get the bullpen clicking, it’s a good thing,” Heuer said. “We have such electric arms down there. Our ceiling is endless. So hopefully this is that spark that can kind of get us going in the right direction.”
“It’s April 12, not even middle of the month, so we’ve got a lot of ball left,” Keuchel said. “If not all of our guns are clicking on the same cylinder, it’s OK, we’re going to have a lot of time. These games are really nice, because it’s just arm after arm and pretty much 95-plus after 95-plus.”
With the bats still hit or miss — Adam Eaton’s third homer of the season Monday was a hit, while failing to cash in on a bases-loaded, nobody-out chance was another glaring miss — White Sox pitching has been left to carry the day. Giolito has done his ace thing, Lance Lynn was excellent in a shutout last week, and Rodón’s first outing was terrific enough that the South Siders can dream big about a deep rotation. The bullpen has been blamed for half the season’s first 10 games ending in losses.
But Monday, the pitching was all-around heroic. Keuchel stepped in when called upon. The bullpen looked like the potentially invincible unit that could make the White Sox an October force.
For a lineup as stacked as the White Sox is, it’s not the kind of baseball they’d draw up. But they’ll most definitely take this from what Keuchel calls the best staff he’s ever been a part of.
“Tonight was great,” Marshall said of the bullpen. “You saw the best version of us.”