Pitchers Lucas Giolito and Jack Flaherty, ex-high school teammates, go head-to-head for first time ever

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CHICAGO — It’s that time of year when those high-school reunions are back in vogue.

Only instead of nametags, they’ll be wearing baseball uniforms.

It will be a beautiful Tuesday evening of reminiscing, and a moment of posterity, but instead of hugs and group pictures, this nine-year-old reunion will be focused two popular classmates.

Lucas Giolito of the Chicago White Sox and Jack Flaherty of the St. Louis Cardinals, who attended high school together at Harvard-Westlake in Los Angeles, will be starting against one another for the first time in their lives at the big-league level.

It will also be a historic night because Joe West will be umpiring his record 5,376th game.

Friends and family are flying in for the event at Guaranteed Rate Field in Chicago. Matt LaCour, their high-school coach will be on hand. So will their old pitching coach, Ethan Katz, who happens to be the new White Sox pitching coach.

“This is super rare for everybody coming from the same high school, coach coming out, and Ethan on the other side,’’ Flaherty said.

“It’s super cool.’’

Giolito, who’s two years older than Flaherty, had no idea this was going to happen until Flaherty texted him five days ago after his last start. Flaherty noticed that Giolito started the same day. And, considering they were playing one another next, it hit them at once.

Telephone calls went out. Airline reservations were made. Hotel rooms were booked.

“I mean this is stuff we talked about in high school,’’ Giolito said, “and then in the minors, saying its’s going to be cool when we get to face each other. It was going to happen eventually. We’re eventually going to have to line up at some point, and so this is the first time hopefully of many over the next 10, 15 years.

“It’s a pretty big deal for all of us. It’s going to be a moment for our families and friends and old teammates from our high-school days.’’

Giolito, who was selected 16th in the first round by the Washington Nationals in 2012, figured one day he’d be facing another one of their high-school teammates, Max Fried of Atlanta, who was drafted by the San Diego Padres with the seventh pick in 2012. Yet, that day still hasn’t happened.

Now, it’s Giolito and Flaherty with the first face-off on Giolito’s home turf, and grateful he’s in the American League with a DH and doesn’t have to face Flaherty at the plate.

If Flaherty isn’t pitching well enough these days, 8-0 with a 2.53 ERA, he was an accomplished hitter in high school, batting .397 as a shortstop when they were together the one season. And he showed he still has plenty of pop by hitting his first career homer three weeks ago.

“He tried to tell me he wishes he was hitting in this game,’’ said Flaherty, selected 34th overall with the Cardinals’ first-round pick two years after Giolito and Fried. “I wanted to get in there and face him. So, I wish these would be different circumstances.’’

Ironically, on Monday, Cardinals outfielder Dylan Carlson and White Sox second baseman Nick Madrigal were able to offer a prelude to the event during the White Sox’s 5-1 victory. They were teammates at Elk Grove High School in California, coached by Dylan’s father, Jeff.

Why, with all of the former high-school classmates and coaches getting together, it felt like a homecoming dance Monday with all of the pictures being snapped.

LONESOME COWBOY: Joe West to stand alone among umpires

UNDER SCRUTINY: White Sox manager Tony La Russa not afraid to face his critics

It will change Tuesday. Flaherty and Giolito vow not to even look at one another before the game, although they hint they may take a quick peek during warmups on the outfield grass. But there will be no conversation between them, Flaherty insists, no matter how hard Katz may try.

“I’ll probably laugh for a split-second or whatnot,’’ Flaherty says. “He’s going to try to get me out of what I do. I know he’s going to try and talk to me, come out there and see me before the game.’’

When the game ends, maybe then, and only then, will they be able to relax with their friends and family, with Giolito hoping that Flaherty’s mother, Eileen, will bring along some of her famous brownies just as she did during every high-school game.

“Absolutely love her, adore her,’’ Giolito says. “Same goes for my side. My parents love Jack. We’re all so close.’’

Giolito, who was a senior on the baseball team, became almost like a big brother to Flaherty when he joined the team. He was among the first to introduce himself. He picked Flaherty up for practice and weekend games, and whenever Flaherty needed a ride, Giolito was there.

“We have a very, very, strong relationship,’’ Giolito says. “It runs from friendship to teammates and being in pro ball.’’

While they work out together during the winter, and seek advice from each other, with Giolito asking about Flaherty’s slider with Flaherty trying to learn more about Giolito’s changeup, they’ll tease one another, too,.

When Giolito was asked who was Katz’s favorite pitcher when they were all together, he initially danced around the question, but then reminded everyone who signs Katz’s paychecks.

“Well, he did come over to coach here,’’ Giolito says, “so maybe that says something.’’

If nothing else, Katz and LaCour should bask in the limelight, knowing they helped produce three opening-day starters with Flaherty emerging as a Cy Young candidate while Giolito (3-4, 4.35 ERA), was dominant in his last start, striking out 11 batters over eight innings.

Really, all three pitchers always believed one day they’d be in the major leagues, and certainly so did the organizations that drafted them, living up to their lofty expectations.

The only real question was: How in the world did this team, with three major-league aces, not win the state championship? They went 24-5-1 in the 2012 season, losing to Valencia in the second round of the playoffs.

What people don’t know is that Giolito was injured at the outset of his senior season, suffering a strained ulnar collateral ligament, which led to Tommy John elbow surgery.

One year later, with Giolito and Fried gone, Flaherty took matters in his own hand, leading Harvard-Westlake to the title, pitching a six-hit shutout and driving in the only run in the championship game.

So, with Flaherty the only one of the trio having a championship on his resume, guess who’s had bragging rights for the last nine years.

Giolito hopes one night can change it.

“It’s going to be a special day,’’ White Sox manager Tony La Russa says. “It will be a classic competition. I’m looking forward to it.’’

So will a certain California high school and its entire baseball community.

Follow Nightengale on Twitter: @Bnightengale

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Lucas Giolito and Jack Flaherty, ex-high school aces, go head-to-head