Johnny Cueto dazzles in White Sox’ 2-0 win over Guardians

CLEVELAND — Johnny Cueto has been an inspiration on a team that has inspired few this season.

On Saturday night, the 36-year-old right-hander gave yet another invigorating performance, throwing 8 2/3 innings in a matchup with 2020 Cy Young winner Shane Bieber in the White Sox’ 2-0 victory.

The result pulled the Sox (62-59) to 2½ games of the American League Central-leading Guardians (64-56). The Sox also gained ground on the second-place Twins, who lost.

Cueto allowed five hits, walked one and struck out two. He threw 113 pitches, lowering his ERA to 2.58.

In a pitching battle that was worth the two-hour, 55-minute wait to start caused by rain, Bieber (9-6, 3.10 ERA) allowed two runs (one earned) in 6„ innings.

Cueto made his 10th straight quality start, exiting with two outs in the ninth after he retired Andres Gimenez on an infield pop fly with Josh Naylor on first.

“He was clutch for us,” manager Tony La Russa said.

Liam Hendriks faced one batter, striking out rookie Oscar Gonzalez for his 19th consecutive save. Cueto told La Russa he was OK to pitch the ninth, even with 100 pitches under his belt.

“He said he was good, so give him a chance,” La Russa said of Cueto starting the ninth. “It’s worth paying just to watch him. He’s so smart.”

But he wasn’t going to face Gonzalez, who had two line drives and a walk against him.

Cueto (6-5) allowed only two runners in scoring position, and Bieber wasn’t scored on until Jose Abreu cleared center fielder Myles Straw’s head with a double that scored Luis Robert (leadoff single) from first in the sixth.

“Johnny has been a great arm for a long time,” Bieber said. “But obviously it sucks to come out on the other end of a game like this.”

Elvis Andrus got his first hit as a Sox player, a single, and scored his first run in the seventh. Andrus advanced to second on a throw home from Straw that resulted in Yasmani Grandal getting thrown out easily for the first out of the seventh and injured. Andrus stole third and scored on Josh Harrison’s short fly ball when right fielder Will Benson’s throw home skipped away.

It was a good bounce-back win for the Sox, who lost the first game of the series 5-2 on Friday. They broke a three-game losing streak.

“I know that every time that I pitch now it’s kind of a playoff game,” Cueto said. “We are in the race and I know I have to do my best to help the team. It’s kind of that mentality that I have.”

Cueto has worked eight-plus innings in three of his four starts in August and pitched eight-plus back-to-back times for the first time since 2016 when he was with the Giants. He’s only the second pitcher in the majors to do that this season, joining the Yankees’ Jameson Taillon.

The last Sox pitcher to make 10 straight quality starts was Carlos Rodon between 2015 and 2016. He’s the first Sox pitcher to do it in one season since Mark Buehrle in 2005.

The Guardians “are a young team. Young players. And my key was trying to be aggressive in the zone,” Cueto said. “First pitch strike. And that’s how I attacked them.

“I’m not focusing on trying to strike out anybody. Just try to get quick contact, quick outs and if they got outs, fine. But I just want for them to put the ball in play.”

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