SAN FRANCISCO — Before the gates to Oracle Park opened Friday, before even many of his White Sox teammates had emerged from the visitor’s clubhouse, Johnny Cueto was commanding a crowd.
A handful of Giants coaches made their way to the White Sox’s side of the field to greet Cueto, who this weekend made his return to the ballpark where he spent the past six seasons. Reliever Jarlín García found his friend during batting practice and embraced him in a bear hug.
The only bitter part of this sweet reunion, for Cueto at least, was that Chicago’s rotation schedule meant he wouldn’t get a chance to pitch against his former team.
“It would be nice to have a chance to pitch here against them for the fans,” Cueto said Saturday morning through a Spanish-language translator.
Wearing sunglasses that reflected the group of reporters in front of him, Cueto sat on the bench inside the first-base dugout and answered questions about his time on the opposite side of the field.
After signing a six-year contract here in 2016, Cueto was named the All-Star Game starter in his first season with the Giants and became an integral clubhouse figure, despite injuries derailing the majority of the following five seasons.
Cueto started 103 games with a 3.83 ERA over his Giants tenure, but the club exercised a $5 million buyout to bring that time to a close after last season, when he contributed 114⅔ innings with a 4.08 ERA to the club that won 107 games.
“We didn’t have any type of communication,” Cueto said of the Giants’ efforts, or lack thereof, to bring him back. “They didn’t call me. They didn’t reach out to me.”
Cueto, 36, ultimately settled for a minor-league deal with the White Sox, where Andrew Bailey disciple Ethan Katz is the pitching coach. The deal didn’t come together until a few days before Opening Day, but since joining Chicago’s rotation in mid-May, Cueto has been as effective as any point since his 2016 All-Star campaign.
In eight starts, Cueto has a 3.33 ERA.
Unfortunately, none will come in front of Giants fans at Oracle Park.
The faithful on the shores of McCovey Cove paid their respects in the series opener Friday night with a standing ovation between innings. Cueto stood on the top step of the dugout and tipped his cap as he appeared on the video board.
“It was good. It was a good moment. I felt very good,” Cueto said. “It was good … to see the fans. It was definitely a good moment. I liked it.”
This felt great and meant a lot. Thanks to you awesome fans and to the Giants. 🤗 🧡 🖤 https://t.co/l20DBXMQdK
— Johnny Cueto (@JohnnyCueto) July 2, 2022
Contributed by local news sources