White Sox

Chris Sale establishes strikeout record in White Sox win over Tigers

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Chris Sale establishes strikeout record in White Sox win over Tigers

Chris Sale knew he was on the verge of a breaking a 107-year-old franchise record on Friday night and wanted to accomplish it in unique fashion.

What better way than an Eephus pitch?

While the four-time White Sox All-Star couldn’t get James McCann to bite on the trick pitch, he needed only two more deliveries to establish a new White Sox record for strikeouts in a season. In his final start of the season, Sale struck out seven batters as he paced the White Sox to a 2-1 victory over the Detroit Tigers on Friday night at U.S. Cellular Field.

Sale finished the season with 274 whiffs to break Hall of Famer Ed Walsh’s single-season mark of 269 set in 1908.

[SHOP: Buy a Chris Sale jersey]

“I wish that Eephus fell in there for a strike,” Sale said. “It is something that came into my mind. I thought if there’s nobody on base and I get a guy with two strikes, let’s flip one in there just for fun. The worst thing that happens is I give up a homer. And I did that before so got that out of the way.”

As he closed in on the mark, Sale didn’t hide it very well as he pumped 98-99 mph fastballs to Tigers hitters in the first two innings.

Catcher Tyler Flowers could tell Sale was fired up andbelieves that resulted in a missed location to Jefry Marte, whose solo homer in the second put Detroit ahead 1-0.

“A lot times it’s obvious when he’s jacked up and I knew it right away,” Flowers said. “It cost us that homer. We missed a spot really bad. 

[MORE: Ventura to return to White Sox in 2016]

“We were trying to get it out of the way and just get back to pitching and get deep in the game and win.”

Though he started McCann off with a ball, Sale threw consecutive fastballs and got a swinging strike and a foul ball. That’s when the Eephus pitch popped into his head but Sale sailed it high and wide. He missed with a 2-2 slider but went back to it again on thefull count and got the call on the outside corner from plate umpire Doug Eddings.

After the strikeout, the home crowd, which had perked up when Sale reached two strikes, gave him a standing ovation as Styx ‘Come Sail Away’ played over the sound system. Because he was aware of the record -- “I couldn’t really pitch until I got it and after that I settled in,” he said -- Sale paused and afforded himself the chance to enjoy the moment.

“Looking over to the dugout seeing everybody standing up and the crowd was going crazy so that took a little to soak in and appreciate that moment,” Sale said. “It comes and goes real quick, but I’ll never forget that.”

[ALSO: White Sox fire bench coach Mark Parent]

Sale was far more efficient in his pursuit of the legendary White Sox pitcher as he averaged a franchise-record 11.82 strikeouts per nine. Whereas Walsh needed 464 innings to record the mark, Sale did it in 203.

In between, Sale -- whose previous career high was 226 strikeouts -- matched runs previously set by Hall of Famers Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez in a historic run. He struck out 10-plus batters in eight straight starts to tie Martinez for the longest streak in major league history and fanned at least a dozen batters in five straight starts to join Martinez and Johnson as the only pitchers to ever accomplish that feat.

And to think, he did it all without the benefit of a full spring training. Sale missed a month of action from February to March with a broken bone in his right foot and only appeared in two minor-league games before the season began.

“To be able to come back and do this is special,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “It just puts him up there with the elite. Tonight, it just seemed like there was a little something extra in there even right from the start. Sometimes you sit there and wonder, three strikeouts can be tough. But he went right after it I thought. He laid it all out there.”

Lucas Giolito relieved to be able to shed No. 1 pitching prospect label

Lucas Giolito relieved to be able to shed No. 1 pitching prospect label

GLENDALE, AZ — You don’t need a scale to see that Lucas Giolito lost some weight in the offseason. As he walks around Camelback Ranch, he just seems lighter. These pounds were shedded thanks to a certain label that has been detached from his name and his being.

“Lucas Giolito, number-one pitching prospect in baseball” is no more.

“Definitely. Big time relief. I carried that title for a while,” Giolito told NBC Sports Chicago. “It was kind of up and down. I was (ranked) 1 at one point. I dropped. I always paid attention to it a little bit moving through the minor leagues.”

Which for any young hurler is risky business. The “best pitching prospect” designation can mess with a pitcher’s psyche and derail a promising career. Giolito was walking a mental tightrope reading those rankings, but after making it back to the majors last season with the White Sox and succeeding, the moniker that seemed to follow him wherever he went has now vanished.

“Looking back on it, that stuff is pretty cool," Giolito said. "It can pump you up and make you feel good about yourself, but in the end the question is, what are you going to do at the big league level? Can you contribute to a team? I’m glad that I finally have the opportunity to do that and all that other stuff is in the rear view."

This wasn’t the case when the White Sox acquired Giolito from the Washington Nationals in the Adam Eaton trade in December 2016. When he arrived at spring training last year, he was carrying around tons of extra baggage in his brain that was weighing him down. Questions about his ability and makeup weren’t helping as he tried living up to such high expectations.

“Yeah, I’d say especially with the trade coming off 2016 where I didn’t perform well at all that year," Giolito said. "I got traded over to a new organization, I still have this label on me of being a top pitching prospect while I’m going to a new place, I’m trying to impress people but at the same time I had a lot of things off mechanically I was trying to fix. Mentally, I was not in the best place as far as pitching went. It definitely added some extra pressure that I didn’t deal with well for a while."

How bad was it for Giolito? Here are some of the thoughts that were scrambling his brain during spring training and beyond last season.

“I saw I wasn’t throwing as hard. I was like, ’Where did my velocity go?’ Oh, it’s my mechanics. My mechanics are bad. I need to fix those,” Giolito said. “Then I’m trying to make adjustments. Why can’t I make this adjustment? It compounds. It just builds and builds and builds and can weigh on you a ton. I was 22 turning 23 later in the year. I didn’t handle it very well. I put a lot of pressure on myself to fix all these different things about my performance, my pitching and trying to do it all in one go instead of just relaxing and remembering, ‘Hey, what am I here for? Why do I play the game?’”

Still, pitching coach Don Cooper wanted to see what he had in his young prospect. So last February, he scheduled him to make his White Sox debut against the Cubs in front of a packed house in Mesa.

“It was kind of like a challenge," Giolito said. "They fill the stadium over there. I’m like, ‘Alright here we go."

Giolito gave up one run, three hits, walked one and struck out two in two innings against the Cubs that day.

“I pitched OK," he said. "I think I gave up a home run to Addison Russell. At the same time, I remember that game like I was forcing things. I might have pitched okay, but I was forcing the ball over the plate instead of relaxing, trusting and letting it happen which is kind of my mantra now. I’m saying that all the time, just having confidence in yourself and letting it go.”

A conversation in midseason with Charlotte Knights pitching coach Steve McCatty, suggested by Cooper, helped turn Giolito’s season around. The lesson for Giolito: whatever you have on the day you take the mound is what you have. Don’t force what isn’t there.

Fortunately for Giolito he has extra pitches in his arsenal, so if the curveball isn’t working (which it rarely did when he came up to the majors last season) he can go to his change-up, fastball, slider, etc.

It’s all part of the learning process, both on the mound and off it. Setbacks are coming. Giolito has already had his share. More will be on the way.

“You want to set expectations for yourself. You want to try and achieve great goals,” he said. “At the same time, it is a game of failure. There’s so much that you have to learn through experience whether that be success or failure. Especially going through the minor leagues. There’s so much that you have to learn and a lot of it is about development. It’s a crazy ride for sure.”

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Rick Hahn gives an update on the state of the White Sox rebuild

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Rick Hahn gives an update on the state of the White Sox rebuild

In this episode of the SportsTalk Live Podcast, Danny Parkins (670 The Score), Chris Bleck (ESPN 1000) and Scott King (WGN Radio) join David Kaplan on the panel.

Ryan Pace’s offseason begins. Josh Sitton and Jerrell Freeman are gone, but what will he do with Kyle Fuller?

Plus, Rick Hahn joins Kap from Glendale, Ariz., to discuss the state of the White Sox rebuild, how tough it is to keep their best prospects in the minors and why Jose Abreu is so important for his young team?

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below: