Dylan Cease admitted Monday that he sometimes thinks about his chances of winning the American League Cy Young Award during his breakout season.
Attribute it to the joy of youth?
“Old people think so too,” Justin Verlander said with a laugh. “It’s very natural.”
Cease, the 26-year-old Chicago White Sox ace, faces Verlander, the 39-year-old Cy Young favorite, Tuesday night at Guaranteed Rate Field in Game 2 of a key series between the Red Sox. and the Houston Astros.
The Sox’s 4-2 victory on Monday was an appetizer for the main course, and both starters seemed primed for the matchup.
“Two guys having good years, and it’s going to be fun,” Verlander said. “I don’t think you get many moments where two guys have great years like this matchup. Things have to line up, so it’s very exciting.”
The game has changed a lot over the years, with starters getting lifted even after six or seven hitless innings and front office executives planning pitching moves with the manager hours before the first pitch.
Whether it’s better or worse for the game is in the eye of the beholder. For some of us dinosaurs, handing the game over to anonymous relievers is never as much fun as watching two dominant pitchers try to duel each other through nine innings, even if their stuff isn’t as good as it was the first time around. .
But that is irrelevant now. Baseball will never go back to the days when a starter who pitched well didn’t give up the ball unless it was knocked out of his hand. Analytics have turned managers into drones. “Five and Dive” has been replaced by “Five and Survive”.
All we can do is appreciate the rare occasions when two dominant starters go toe-to-toe in a regular-season game, and hope the coaches understand that this is entertainment. Many fans want to see which pitcher comes out on top, not which one gives their team a chance to win with 85 pitches.
Tony La Russa and Dusty Baker are the kind of old-school GMs you’d think would give their starters a little more leeway in a marquee matchup like Verlander-Cease. We’ll see.
They’re also new-school thinkers when it comes to ensuring their aces remain healthy and durable in October, so don’t expect to go back to the days when pitch counts were thrown out the window.
Still, Baker knows it’s something the game needs.
“I was thinking about that today,” he said. “This is like when I was a kid: (Sandy) Koufax and Juan Marichal, or Don Drysdale and Gaylord Perry, Ferguson Jenkins and Bob Gibson. These are classics, classics (pairings). I remember when Don Sutton from our team (Los Angeles Dodgers) was going up against Nolan Ryan.
“I’m going to have to be very careful and make sure I don’t spectate and manage. Because if I was home, I would bring myself a bowl of popcorn and some beer and the only time I would leave would be if there was a commercial or it was between entrees because that’s a classic (pairing).”
Baker said the reason there aren’t more classic matchups is that there were fewer teams in the past, and four-man rotations made it more likely that two No. 1s could go toe-to-toe.
While that’s true, there’s also a lack of star power when it comes to starting pitching. There are plenty of well-paid starters, but few must-see pitchers like Verlander, Max Scherzer and Clayton Kershaw.
Cease may be on his way, as evidenced by his record streak of 14 straight starts allowing one or no earned runs, but he’ll have to prove himself for a few more years to reach that status.
Can you imagine yourself pitching at Verlander’s age?
“I haven’t even thought about it,” he said. “It’s hard to understand, but I guess he and Scherzer are showing that if you take care of yourself, there’s no reason your (speed) or anything else has to slow down. Guys like that are making it easier to imagine for sure.”
Cease was revealed Monday as the Sox’s poet laureate. He released a poem he wrote on his slider called “O Slider Slide” and had the team distribute T-shirts with the verses on the back. A sample:
“Or slider, slider, slider, slider.
“In the strike zone, actually, a win is implied.”
Well, Dylan Thomas had to start somewhere, and he probably couldn’t even throw a slider. You have to give Cease credit for exposing himself.
Matchup aside, this is a big series for the Red Sox, who were beaten by these same Astros in October in the AL Division Series and have yet to recover.
Baker pointed to the Sox’s injuries, saying, “It’s not the uniform, it’s the person in the uniform.”
“If I’m playing my first team against your second team, ultimately I’m going to win most of the time and you’re going to lose most of the time,” he said.
The Red Sox greeted the Astros by playing “Bang the Drum All Day” during Houston’s lineup introduction, a testament to their sign-stealing past. The Astros responded by hitting Sox starter Johnny Cueto hard in a two-run first inning, helped by an error by Josh Harrison.
Cueto calmed down and didn’t allow another run until the eighth, allowing the Sox to rally with four runs in the bottom of the eighth.
Maybe the scoreboard guys should have played “Golden Slumbers” for the Red Sox, who have been asleep at the wheel for much of the season. Meanwhile, the Astros have had no trouble getting up for games, even with a sizable lead in the AL West.
“We expect guys to be the best version of themselves, and we all hold each other accountable,” Verlander said.
Baker said not to rule out the Sox.
“They’re in a good division to be where they are,” he said. “I remember when Tony La Russa won 83 games and won the World Series (with the 2006 St. Louis Cardinals).”
The Russian too.
“I know he does,” Baker said. “You just want to get into the dance. Our job is to prevent them from entering the dance.”