Chris Sale looked untouchable for so many years on the South Side. Tuesday night, his old team made him look mortal.
Since leaving the White Sox in this past offseason’s blockbuster trade with the Boston Red Sox, Sale has been one of the best pitchers — if not the best pitcher — in the American League. He entered Tuesday’s big-time pitching matchup against former teammate Jose Quintana with a 2.34 ERA and a league-leading 101 strikeouts.
But Tuesday night he coughed up six runs on 10 hits, the White Sox getting to him and scoring in three separate innings. Jose Abreu had a two-run single, Todd Frazier hit a two-run homer, and at separate instances the South Siders had little trouble stringing together base runners against their former mate.
The run and hit totals were season highs for Sale. The five innings pitched were a season low. It was by far his worst outing in an otherwise stellar campaign to this point.
Sale’s evaluation? He stunk.
“I just think I was throwing a lot of pitches,” Sale said after the game. “I wasn’t throwing a whole lot of strikes, falling behind guys. I don’t think I was very accurate either. I don’t think I was throwing to specific spots, just throwing to general areas, too. Like I said, I stunk tonight. I didn’t do a whole lot to help us win.”
Sale did get the win, with Quintana having even more trouble with Sale’s new teammates than Sale did with the White Sox. The Red Sox smacked three homers off Quintana and chased him from the game before the close of the third inning. The Red Sox, who entered with the fewest home runs in baseball, hit six of them Tuesday night.
It made for a much different evening than expected with the Sale-Quintana matchup, a 13-6 slugfest that Sale dubbed “7 o’clock batting practice.”
Even with all the runs and home runs, though, the lanky lefty dominated the attention, receiving a standing ovation from the fans at Guaranteed Rate Field. After Sale spent seven seasons in a White Sox uniform, including five straight All-Star campaigns, he earned quite the fan base, one that was upset to see him traded even if it meant jumpstarting a promising rebuilding effort.
“It’s special. This is where I called home for a long time. A little piece of my heart will always be here for sure,” Sale said of the warm welcome home from the fans. “I appreciated it. I did everything I could while I was here for the team, for the fans, for the city, and to get that same respect back is nice. I appreciate it.”
[WHITE SOX TICKETS: Get your seats right here]
In the end, it seemed Sale’s favorite part about being back was seeing — and pitching against — his old teammates.
Despite all the hype, the huge media sessions on both Monday and Tuesday, a tribute video during Monday’s game and Tuesday night’s giant spotlight, Sale admitted he was very much looking forward to this experience. Of course, his performance meant he wasn’t able to show the smiles to former teammates he said Monday would be difficult to suppress. But he still said he enjoyed his return.
“I was actually looking forward to tonight,” Sale said. “Pitching against my buddies, my old team. (Quintana is) like a brother to me, too, so going up against him was fun. Obviously the end result wasn’t what we had expected. By no means am I glad that this is over. I wish I enjoyed it more, but it was something I was looking forward to.
“I wasn’t smiling a whole lot tonight, that’s for sure. I kept them to a touchdown, I didn’t let them get the extra point. It is what it is. I stunk tonight. I know it’s a big deal because I’m facing my old team and this is where I played and all that stuff. But I was just bad, I really was, and my guys picked me up tonight.
“For me to be able to walk out of this building with my chin up and in a good mood and good spirits and all that and music playing in the locker room after the game, I had nothing to do with that and that says a lot about my teammates and who we’ve got in that clubhouse.”
This wasn’t the same Sale that White Sox fans got so used to watching dominate opposing hitters — nor was it the Sale that Red Sox fans have grown accustomed to seeing through the first two months of his Boston tenure.
Sale wasn’t able to turn in his usual superhuman effort, but through all the positive attention he received Tuesday night, it was easy to see that he meant so very much on the South Side.