Monday, March 7, 2011
By Chuck Garfien
On a recent spring training morning in Glendale, Chris Sale, the White Sox beanpole reliever arrived at Camelback Ranch with some exciting news to share with head trainer, Allen Thomas.
I said, A.T., youd be so proud of me, Sale recalls. I went home, had some chicken, mashed potatoes, broccoli, and I cleared the plate! Then I had two bowls of cereal, a pint of ice cream, a couple bottles of water, and went to bed. He was like, That a boy!
While this "extreme" eating event didnt make it onto the front page of any newspaper, it was a monumental achievement for a skinny, scrawny left-hander, who stands 6-foot-5, weighs 170 pounds, and can sometimes be mistaken for a long piece of rope or a fishing line.
Its gotten to the point where Im getting excited about my eating habits, Sale says.
But lets be serious. He could probably use a whole lot more junk food than that.
I think Ive heard that from someone before, he says with a laugh.
From who? I ask.
Whatever Sale is doing, both on and off the field, the best advice is this: keep doing it. After getting drafted in the first round by the White Sox last June, Sale blasted through the minor leagues like a screaming torpedo, flying past Winston-Salem-A and Charlotte-AAA, before landing safely in the big leagues in August. With a triple-digit fastball and back-breaking change-up, its a place he clearly belongs.
But the speed in which it all happened, professionally and personally, was quite overwhelming.
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2010 was the year of my life, he says. I got drafted, made my major league debut, got engaged, had a son. It was just a crazy year.
Especially when you consider that the Sox fireballer didnt actually become one until he made it to the big leagues.
Aug. 21 in Kansas City to be exact.
I had never thrown a pitch over 96 miles per hour before. Ever, Sale explains. I hit 97 in Triple-A, but it didnt count because it was a fastball and it hit the ground before it even hit the plate. And in my first few (major league) outings, I was 92, 93, and then something just happened. I dont know what it was.
Entering the game in the 9th inning that day, Sale pitched 1.2 innings of hitless baseball, but took the loss (his first and only last season), after a walk he gave to Wilson Betemit produced the game-winning run after Bobby Jenks surrendered a base hit to Yuniesky Betancourt in the 11th.
Its also the only run Sale gave up on the road in 10.2 innings.
After the game, Sale went to his locker and noticed that his phone was blowing up.
I got about 20 text messages from friends saying, Hey, we just saw you throw 101 miles an hour. Whats this all about? And I was like, Hold on...what??
Basically overnight, the Sox flimsy featherweight turned into a dangerous flamethrower who could test the laws of baseball physics every time he came out of the bullpen.
So what happened? What was it? Adrenaline??
It had to have been, he says. That was a tight situation I was coming into. I try to use that adrenaline, the rush of being in a pressure situation and really using it towards pitching effectively; throwing harder, being more focused. I mean, there are some nights I can't go to sleep until 3 o'clock in the morning.
Sale looks up.
Im like, when am I going to fade out? I just stare at the ceiling.
When Sale first arrived in the majors, White Sox fans werent sure what they were seeing.
My debut was kind of rough. That was when the pressure got to me, Sale remembers.
It was Aug. 6 in Baltimore.
I was in my own head. I was out there thinking, Don't give up a home run and don't walk a guy. Well, I walked the first guy and gave up an 0-2 hit to the next guy and my night was done. After that the guys were like, Hey listen it's out of the way. We don't think any different of you. When you get out there, just start breathing.
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I tell Chris that it did look like he was having trouble breathing on the mound that night.
You kidding me? I ran from the bullpen to the mound and I was out of breath! I got done pitching and was like, I only threw like seven pitches, but I felt like I was out there for an hour and a half!
Besides realizing his need for an oxygen tank, Sale says he learned something else that night.
The game speeds up on you, so just slow it down. Throw strikes. You don' t need to go out there and over-pitch. That's what I was trying to do. I was trying to be too good, trying to throw the nastiest pitch in the world when the pitch that Im throwing is going to get the job done anyways.
After that, Sale was almost impossible to hit. He finished his rookie season going 2-1 with a 1.93 ERA, striking out 32 in 23.1 innings. Hes now in camp competing for the closer's job with Matt Thornton and Sergio Santos. If he doesnt get it, no worries. Youre talking about a kid who a year ago at this time was living in a dorm room at Florida Gulf Coast University.
To me, pitching is pitching. I love to play baseball. Thats all I'm here to do. Whether that's starting, middle relief, late relief, closer, I just want to pitch.
And gain weight.
Sale says his waist size is around 28. Yep, 28...same as his Dads when he got married once upon a time. The White Sox dont have any pants with a waist that small, so Chris is fitting snuggly into a size 34, thanks to a very strong belt.
As you can see my belt is actually on the last notch here, Sale points out. I'm not skinny enough where I have to create my own hole, so it's on the last one. Hopefully by the end of the season I can get it to this second notch.
That would be progress.
So Chris will keep on pitching, while doing a whole bunch of eating; steak, burgers, candy bars, milk shakes. You name it. And while hes shoveling in all the food, someone pass the Alka-Seltzer. Chris doesnt need it. Judging by last season, the rest of the American League most certainly will.
Chuck Garfien hosts White Sox Pregame and Postgame Live on Comcast SportsNet with former Sox sluggers Frank Thomas and Bill Melton. Follow Chuck @ChuckGarfien on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Sox news and views.