Chicago — There was a festive vibe at Guaranteed Rate Field before Game 1 of the doubleheader Wednesday. (There’s a sentence you haven’t read much the last few years.)
The reason: The White Sox unveiled one of their prized prospects — right-hander Dylan Cease. And the Tigers were in prime position to spoil the party.
But they didn’t.
They let him off the hook early and Cease walked off to a standing ovation after five innings, helping the White Sox to a 7-5 win over the Tigers in his major league debut.
Compounding the their woes, center fielder JaCoby Jones left the game in the fifth inning with back spasms. Victor Reyes was quickly pulled out of the lineup in Toledo, so Jones, one of the Tigers' bright spots the past month, might be going on the injured list until after the All-Star break.
"We'll see how he does during the night," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He had an MRI, we'll have to see."
The Tigers came up maybe 5 feet short of entirely changing the narrative of this one.
Cease, the White Sox's No. 3-ranked prospect who came out of the shoot throwing 98- and 99-mph fastballs, needed 101 pitches to get through those five innings, largely because of a 33-pitch first inning.
After two quick outs, he walked Nick Castellanos and Brandon Dixon, then hit Jeimer Candelario near the right wrist bone with a 97-mph heater. Candelario slammed his helmet to the ground in anguish as head athletic trainer Doug Teter came out to tend to him.
"I thought it was over," said Candelario, who has battled injuries to that wrist the last two seasons. "I wasn't mad at (Cease). I know he wasn't trying to do that. It's just, I've been feeling good and I don't want to go back on the injured list."
Harold Castro made Cease pay, ripping a two-run single. Cease re-loaded the bases, and then narrowly escaped when John Hicks' well-struck fly ball was caught on the warning track in center field.
Asked if he thought Cease settled in after that, Christin Stewart said, "I don't think he did, at all. Once you get punched in the mouth, you try to fight back. That's what he was trying to do."
The Tigers managed just one more mark against him, though — a home run to right-center field by Candelario, who pounced on a first-pitch change-up.
"He was not commanding his fastball," said Candelario, who hit a curveball to the warning track his previous at-bat. "I just told myself to be ready and try to take advantage."
Cease ended up striking out six and allowing just four hits.
The only other push-back from the Tigers came with two outs in the ninth — back-to-back RBI doubles by former White Sox player Gordon Beckham and Stewart.
"We hung in there and battled late," Gardenhire said. "The game could have gone either way a couple of times."
The Tigers did some good things defensively in this game, notably, they threw out two runners on the bases in the first two innings.
The first inning ended when shortstop Jordy Mercer fielded an infield single and smartly threw to third base to get James McCann, who had rounded the base too far.
The second inning ended when Ryan Cordell was thrown out at the plate trying to score from first on an RBI double by Leury Garcia. Castro made a strong relay throw from right field to Niko Goodrum, who fired it home.
That went a long way in getting starter Daniel Norris through five innings.
"I felt better than the (stat) line," said Norris, who allowed six runs and eight hits with three walks and a hit batsman. "But when you put runners on base, that's what happens."
McCann, the former Tigers catcher, inflicted a lot of damage to Norris' line. He had an RBI double in the first inning and worked a 10-pitch walk from Norris in the third inning. Norris struck him out with a 93-mph fastball in the fifth inning.
Then in the seventh against Buck Farmer, McCann fought out of a two-strike hole and lashed an RBI single to left on a 3-2 pitch.
The pivotal inning was the sixth. The Tigers were down 4-3 and Norris, over 90 pitches, walked the first two hitters.
"I dug my own grave there, pretty much," Norris said. "This would be a different conversation if I didn't walk those two guys."
Farmer inherited the mess and gave up an RBI single to Yolmer Sanchez.
Then, with runners on the corners, Cordell laid down a bunt back toward the mound. Eloy Jimenez, the runner on third, didn’t break for home until the bunt was down — a safety squeeze. Hicks aggressively pounced on the bunt and made the out at first.
But there may have been a play at the plate had Hicks stayed and allowed Farmer to field the bunt.
"Hicks has to stay behind the plate," Gardenhire said. "The pitcher has to come and make the play. You've got to take the chance. You've got to get the out at home. You have to try anyway."
Hicks, though, with a good look at Jimenez, didn't think there'd be a play.
"It was going to be a do-or-die play," Farmer said. "We had to get an out right there. John was saying, 'I got it, I got it.' Obviously he didn't think there was going to be any type of play.
"It would have had to be perfectly executed, the glove-flip, the tag, everything."