Johnny Cueto was terrific in his Chicago White Sox debut last Monday in Kansas City.
He was even more impressive in his second start of the season Sunday against the New York Yankees.
The veteran right-hander allowed six hits in six-plus scoreless innings at Yankee Stadium but did not factor in the decision. The Sox gave up a late lead only to respond with two in the ninth for a 3-1 victory in Game 1 of a doubleheader.
“He’s an artist,” Sox manager Tony La Russa said. “It’s fun to watch him pitch a game. And that’s what he’s been, an outstanding starting pitcher, because he gives you a different look four times in a game.”
Michael Kopech was even better in Game 2, retiring the first 17 batters as the Sox completed the sweep with a 5-0 victory. Rob Brantly broke up the perfect game with a two-out double in the sixth.
Kopech — who returned from the paternity leave list after the birth Friday of his second son, Vander — allowed one hit with six strikeouts and two walks in seven scoreless innings.
The Sox scored five with two outs in the eighth on RBI hits by Andrew Vaughn and Reese McGuire and a three-run home run by Tim Anderson.
The Sox had ample opportunities to score earlier, but Yankees starter Luis Severino worked out of trouble several times.
Their best opportunity against Severino came in the fifth when they loaded the bases with no outs. Anderson grounded to third and the Yankees got the force at the plate. Yoán Moncada then bounced to first and again the Yankees got the force at the plate. Luis Robert struck out to end the inning.
Vaughn came through with two outs in the eighth, singling to center against Jonathan Loáisiga to bring home José Abreu. McGuire followed with another single, bringing in Adam Engel.
Anderson — who was booed throughout the night by Yankees fans after Saturday’s words with Josh Donaldson and a bench-clearing incident — then homered against Miguel Castro.
In the first game, AJ Pollock put the Sox ahead in the ninth with a leadoff homer to left on a 1-0 fastball from Yankees reliever Aroldis Chapman.
“You’ve got to stay short to him,” Pollock said. “He’s got some good velocity, good cut on his fastball, so just trying to hit a line drive and it worked out.”
Vaughn drew a one-out walk, moved to second on a wild pitch and to third on a passed ball before scoring on a double by Engel, making it 3-1. Liam Hendriks struck out two in a perfect ninth for his 13th save.
It was a nice bounce-back performance by the Sox after the Yankees tied the score at 1 in the eighth when Aaron Judge homered to left on an 0-2 sinker against reliever Kendall Graveman.
The Yankees put two on with one out in the inning, but Graveman rebounded to get Donaldson to fly out to center and Aaron Hicks to pop out to third.
“Most times when you do that, (you) lose your concentration and there is another run on the board,” La Russa said of Graveman. “He got the zero afterward, gave us a chance to win.”
Cueto put the Sox in an excellent position early.
“I had good command of all my pitches today and they had very good movement and I was able to locate them up and down the zone,” Cueto, who was receiving fluids in the aftermath of Game 1, said in a statement. “That was the key to keep the Yankees off-balanced today.”
The Sox went ahead 1-0 on an RBI single by Yasmani Grandal in the fourth.
And Cueto kept “dealing,” as Pollock said. He struck out five and walked two in the 95-pitch outing.
“He’s been awesome for us,” Pollock said. “Works fast and has all sorts of pitches to get them off-balanced. Shimmy shake (delivery). It’s awesome to play behind him. It’s great having him out there for the first game of a doubleheader because of the tone he just set for us.”
Cueto has pitched 12 scoreless innings, the third-longest streak for a Sox starter at the beginning of his tenure with the team since 1974, according to STATS. Ken Brett pitched 17 scoreless innings in 1976 and Jack McDowell went 13 innings in 1987.
Cueto allowed two hits and struck out seven in six scoreless innings against the Royals.
“When (general manager) Rick (Hahn) mentioned that we were going to be able to bring him into the organization, he has a special relationship with our pitching coach (Ethan Katz) because they were in San Francisco together (in 2020),” La Russa said. “Ethan was watching the videos (before Cueto’s arrival from Triple-A Charlotte) and said, ‘Man, he’s throwing free and easy. That’s vintage stuff.’”
Cueto exited after allowing two singles to begin the seventh. Joe Kelly struck out Marwin Gonzalez, picked off Hicks at second and struck out Jose Trevino to maintain the one-run lead.
“Kelly was just perfect,” La Russa said.
The Yankees got the run in the eighth, but Pollock came though with the big hit in the ninth to give the Sox what La Russa called a “hard-earned” victory.