White Sox-Cardinals: Lucas Giolito, Jack Flaherty set for matchup

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High school buds Giolito, Flaherty meet as major league aces originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

Imagine the thing you love doing. Imagine your high school buddy loves doing it, too.

Now imagine you get to do it together on a national stage.

That's what Lucas Giolito and Jack Flaherty will do Tuesday night, when the two friends and former high school teammates face off against one another in a major league game on the South Side.

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Two Southern California kids leading a couple of Midwestern contenders in a battle of first-place squads? That's dream-level stuff right there.

It's already reached the realm of the incredible, the fact that three big league aces pitched together on the same high school team at Harvard-Westlake High School in Los Angeles. Giolito threw a no-hitter for the Chicago White Sox last year. Flaherty is off to a perfect 8-0 start with the St. Louis Cardinals this season. And Max Fried has already pitched in three postseasons for the Atlanta Braves, fresh off a fifth-place finish in last year's NL Cy Young vote.

And now their high school pitching coach has joined them at the pinnacle of the sport, too, Ethan Katz in his first year as the White Sox pitching coach.

"I'd say it was like friendly competition," Giolito said Monday. "We wanted to see everyone succeed on our team, and not just between me, Max and Jack but the other guys on our high school team, as well. We put in a lot of work, we pushed each other with the work we were doing on a daily basis.

"We were just trying to focus on winning games, throwing the ball well and then getting drafted high."

They were first-round picks, the lot of them. Fried went No. 7 overall, Giolito went No. 16, and Flaherty went No. 34.

Katz's tutelage paid off.

Now with all three able to claim the title of "one of the best pitchers in baseball," the matchup between Giolito and Flaherty promises to be downright thrilling. Giolito's already gone toe-to-toe with the likes of Shane Bieber and Jacob deGrom. Here comes another one of the game's finest arms — and it happens to be one of Giolito's best friends.

"I think it's going to be fun," he said. "Any time I'm pitching against a guy like Bieber or deGrom or Flaherty, it adds fun for me. A lot of people will say it's more pressure or it's a top pitcher going against us, stuff like that. But I find it to be more fun because it's like, 'All right, get up for this game,' and do everything I can to give us the best possible chance to win it."

Family and friends are coming in for this one. The guys' high school coach will be in attendance. And of course, all eyes will be on two pitchers who could be doing their dealing deep into October, two pitchers who helped each other become two of the game's best.

"We have a very, very strong relationship, and it runs from friendship to teammate and being in pro ball, ... getting together in the offseason, working on things," Giolito said. "I've asked him plenty of questions about his slider in the past, he's asked me questions about my changeup. And kind of watching each other, all that kind of stuff, we've been doing that forever.

"I think it started when we were in high school and he was two years younger than me. I think there was a few things I might have shown him early, and then he really rose to prominence. I was in the minor leagues before he was, talking with him about that. He really, really turned it on to the point where I'm asking him, 'OK, what are you doing being so consistent and so successful?' Always having those kinds of conversations."

Two friends, two former high school teammates, two pitchers. The relationship was strong from the start, and it's stayed strong. Now, it gets to take Major League Baseball's center stage.

"Lucas was one of the first guys — when I was a freshman, he was a junior — he was one of the first guys to introduce himself to me. He doesn’t remember that. I do," Flaherty told reporters Monday. "I kind of went with him everywhere. He was one of the guys that gave me rides wherever I needed it, to practice or when we played games on the weekend. ... I was always close with him.

"It’s rare. I think it’s super rare, everybody coming from the same high school. ... It’s something that I don’t know when it’s ever happened, if it will ever happen again. It’s just pretty cool and something that during the game I’m going to try to enjoy it."

And as so often is the case with the game's young stars, a moment like this makes you wonder if it will be a preview of even greater things to come.

"We're all so close. I think it's just a very cool moment," Giolito said. "It was going to happen eventually between the three of us. We were eventually going to have to line up at some point, and so this is the first time, hopefully, of very many over the next 10, 15 years."

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