Sports

Anticipated fireworks fizzle for Verlander, Cease

CHICAGO — The American League Cy Young race probably didn’t alter much on Tuesday, as Houston Astros ace Justin Verlander and his top competitor for the honor — Chicago White Sox righty Dylan Cease — each gave up three runs in the White Sox’s eventual 4-3 victory.

“I was disappointed,” Cease said despite the team win. “It wasn’t my sharpest outing but [the game] was close enough to keep us in it, then everyone else picked me up.”

For the second night in a row, White Sox third baseman Yoan Moncada drove in the winning run with an RBI single in the bottom of the eighth.

Neither starter was around for a decision in the game. Verlander, 39, lasted seven innings, while Cease, 26, went only five. Cease gave up three runs on six hits and three walks, the first time in his past 15 outings he has given up more than one earned run.

Verlander had a 3-1 lead in the seventh, but pinch hitter Gavin Sheets doubled home the tying runs on a 1-2 pitch not long after Verlander issued his first walk of the night, to catcher Seby Zavala.

“Don’t like giving up runs, especially in a situation late like that,” Verlander told reporters. “It wasn’t a horrible pitch [to Sheets]. It was on the inner half, off the plate a little bit. Usually guys pull that foul. Little frustrated.”

Said Sheets: “First and second, I want to get the ball in the air. My main thought was get something in the air and get something in the strike zone. I was able to do that.”

Cease saw his ERA go up for the first time since May 24 — a span of 14 starts, the longest for a starting pitcher since 2019. While leading 1-0 in the third, he gave up RBI doubles to Alex Bregman and Kyle Tucker; then in the fifth, Jose Altuve hit a solo shot to lead off the inning.

“They’re one of the better lineups around,” Cease said. “They had a lot of good at-bats, but at the end of the day, it feels good that we won as a team.”

Seeing Cease and his devastating slider for the first time this season, Astros hitters adjusted the second time through the order. Altuve and Yuli Gurriel laid off pitches just off the zone while earning back-to-back walks to open the third inning, eventually leading to the two runs.

The matchup was just the third since 1969 between two starters with sub-2.00 ERAs. Verlander is the favorite (-175) to win the AL Cy Young Award, according to Caesars Sportsbook, while Cease is the second choice.

If Verlander doesn’t win it, he still might have the White Sox to blame. In two starts against them this season, he gave up 17 hits and 10 runs (7 ER) in 10⅔ innings.

“Both times I’ve faced them, they’ve given me really good at-bats, pretty much the entire lineup,” he said. “Today was a challenge.”

Verlander and Miami Marlins righty Sandy Alcantara are now the only two (qualified) pitchers with sub-2.00 ERAs, after Cease saw his rise to 2.09. Verlander’s 1.95 ERA is still first in the AL but is now second to Alcantara (1.92) in all of baseball.

The White Sox have won the first two games of their four-game series against Houston, a rematch of an AL Division Series in October.

One game separates three teams at the top of the AL Central.

“There is no denying there were a lot of big implications, [and] at the end of the day, it felt like an intense game,” Cease said.

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