After falling behind 0-2, Jorge Mateo stepped out of the box in an apparent effort to disrupt the rhythm of Dylan Cease.
Cease proceeded to strike out Mateo to start the third inning for the sixth of a career-high 13 strikeouts Sunday.
After losing four consecutive games, the only obstacle facing the White Sox was themselves as they survived a harrowing ninth inning to seize a 4-3 victory over the Orioles and avert a four-game sweep.
The Sox (34-37) averted falling to a season-high five games below .500, which would have cast more scrutiny as they embarked to the West Coast for six games against the Angels and Giants.
They departed with joy and relief thanks largely to Cease’s dominance, in which he scattered four hits over seven innings.
“That’s why we’ve got to work to keep him healthy,” manager Tony La Russa said. “He’s up there with the top echelon of starting pitchers. Just look at the work he’s doing against the teams he’s doing it to, the quality of the pitches, going through those lineups three times.
“That was an unbelievable ninth, though.”
Joe Kelly struck out Austin Hays to persevere a three-run lead, but tensions mounted after first baseman Jose Abreu dropped a throw and botched a grounder to start the ninth. Jonathan Arauz hit a bases-loaded single, and Cedric Mullins hit a sacrifice fly to move the tying run to third.
But Kendall Graveman, handling the closer’s duties in place of injured Liam Hendricks, struck out Trey Mancini and alleviated the worst fears of 29,191 fans.
“That win needed to happen,” Graveman said. “It would have been a tough way to lose it.”
Especially after Cease mixed in his 98 mph fastball to keep the Orioles’ batters from looking exclusively for his sharp slider that earned five of his first six strikeouts.
“You’ve definitely got to mix it in and make sure they know that it’s not just going to be spin,” said Cease, who threw 67 of his 101 pitches for strikes. “Lot of strikes, that’s good.”
Gavin Sheets’ two-run homer in the second provided early support as well as represented the Sox’s first homer since they hit three June 20 in a win over the Blue Jays.
All five of Sheets’ homers this season have been hit at home.
Sosa poked a double down the right-field line for his first major league hit in the third and scored on a sacrifice fly by Andrew Vaughn.
“Even though the first few days I wasn’t able to get my first one, they kept telling me ‘don’t worry, don’t worry, you’re going to get your first one sooner rather than later,’ ” Sosa said.
Cease, meanwhile, strengthened his American League All-Star credentials by lowering his ERA to 2.56 and increased his strikeout total to 121 in 15 starts, the third most by a Sox pitcher in his first 15 starts of a season.
Cease, who threw 46 sliders, earned his fourth double-digit strikeout game in 2022 – tying him with Javier Vazquez for fifth-most in franchise history.
“I want to be that guy that the team can rely on,” Cease said. “To go out and give seven like that is definitely a positive.”
And Graveman maintained his poise through the chaos in the ninth, gathering his infielders for some positive reinforcement after Abreu’s second error.
” ‘Hey, it’s fine,’ ” Graveman told them. ” ‘We still got to win a baseball game. No panic. Nobody’s fault. Hey, I’ll pick you up and do the best I can to pick you up.’ “