Chris Sale and the White Sox offense both woke up after a painful start on Saturday night.
Sale survived a potentially disastrous first inning and the offense provided more seventh inning magic as the White Sox downed the Minnesota Twins 7-2 in front of 28,049 at U.S. Cellular Field. After he walked a batter with the bases loaded and hit another in a wild first inning, Sale retired 19 of the last 20 batters he faced to improve to 7-0.
Todd Frazier made two great defensive plays, homered and doubled in a run for the White Sox, who improved to 21-10 and clinched their sixth series win in 10 this season. Jose Quintana pitches Sunday as the White Sox look to close out a sweep of the Twins.
“It was a very odd first inning for him, definitely,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “I think a team that's kind of had your number somewhat, he was up there velocity-wise, too. I think he was overthrowing it, definitely overthrowing the slider. But I think he finally got into a groove and we were able to score some runs for him. But that's the first time I've seen him like that where he's really overthrowing.
“It's nice to see him calm down and get through it.”
Sale (7-0) suggested Friday he had Minnesota, against whom he went 1-4 with a 7.36 ERA last season, circled on his calendar.
He looked like it, too.
Sale hit 97 mph on a strikeout of Darin Mastroianni to start the game before he began to struggle with command.
After he surrendered two, two-out hits, including Trevor Plouffe’s ground-rule double, Sale hit Byung Ho Park with a pitch to load the bases. Oswaldo Arcia gave Minnesota a 1-0 lead with a five-pitch walk and Sale hit Jorge Polanco to force in another run.
Only after a mound visit did Sale escape the bases-loaded jam on a Kurt Suzuki grounder.
But he never looked back.
Sale, who threw 36 first-inning pitches, needed only 10 in the second to retire the side in order, something he did five times. Sale was flawless the rest of the way save for a one-out Polanco double in the fourth. He struck out the side in the fifth inning and had eight whiffs over his last six innings.
Sale was so good that Ventura brought him back for the seventh inning, even though he was at 106 pitches. He threw strikes on 74 of 120 pitches and limited the Twins to three hits, a walk and two hit batsmen in seven innings.
“He works fast so it makes us into the game a lot more so when we can get to balls or make those plays when we need them,” Frazier said. “So even though that first inning was a little weird, a little hectic, he came back, he settled down and we came through there as hitters.”
Sale joined Eddie Cicotte, John Whitehead, Jack McDowell and Jon Garland as the only pitchers in franchise history to win their first seven starts and also is the first in the majors this season to reach the seven-win mark.
Sale wouldn’t have gotten there without his supporting cast.
A team that entered 18th in the majors with a .256 average with runners in scoring position started 1-for-8 and stranded seven runners in the first four innings, which prevented the White Sox from pulling away early.
Dioner Navarro doubled in a run in the second off Ervin Santana and Frazier’s solo homer in the third — his first hit in 20 May at-bats — evened the score. Austin Jackson also forced in a run in the fourth with a bases-loaded walk to put the White Sox ahead for good.
The White Sox finally broke it open in the seventh. Frazier had an RBI double, Brett Lawrie had an RBI single and Avisail Garcia forced in a run when he was hit by a pitch.
Abreu singled in a run in the eighth inning for the White Sox, who have outscored opponents 31-8 in the seventh inning this season.
Sale said the support from his teammates was far greater than several nice defensive plays and the late runs. They provided an emotional lift, too.
“I’m probably out of there in the fourth or fifth inning a couple of years ago,” Sale said. “You guys are talking about 7-0 — my teammates got me here. They got me through this one today. I didn’t give (Navarro) too much to work with. I had a good breaking ball today and that was about it. Fastball all over the place, changeup wasn’t there for the most part and he got me through that game and my guys won this game for us. I was just along for the ride.”