ST. LOUIS — According to his catcher, Chris Sale didn’t have his best command on a muggy evening in St. Louis.
But that didn’t stop the White Sox ace from putting together a 12-strikeout masterpiece as the White Sox outlasted the first-place Cardinals in a 2-1 extra-inning win in front of a sellout crowd of 45,626 on Tuesday night at Busch Stadium. Tyler Flowers’ 11th-inning solo home run — which rocketed 431 feet into the left field bleachers — broke the tie and wound up being the game-winner.
Sale tied Pedro Martinez’s major league record with his eighth consecutive start with 10 or more strikeouts and finished his evening having allowed only one run. That lone blemish came when Randal Grichuk led off the fourth with a long home run into the second deck of the left field stands, but outside of that he scattered five other hits and one walk.
And Sale did all of it, history included, without being able to command half of the plate.
[MORE WHITE SOX: Chris Sale equals Pedro Martinez’s record for consecutive 10-K games]
“It wasn’t his best command day,” Flowers said. “We were having a hard time getting in on righties consistently. A lot of those led to elevated pitches up out over the plate, which is effective too. So we kind of had to change the gameplan a little bit just because he was having a hard time getting opposite arm side.
“So we threw a lot more arm-side sinkers, fastballs there to kind of save anything going in until later in the counts. We mixed in a few more sliders too to keep them honest, not dive out there. It was a little out of the ordinary for him to not have a good feel for that side of the plate, but we changed it up a little bit and made it work.”
Sale’s impact wasn’t limited to the mound, though. He led off the third by flipping a broken-bat single to left, his first career hit, and raced around to score from second on Jose Abreu’s single later in the inning. The 26-year-old awkwardly slid into home plate — “It’s my first one in like nine years, what do you expect?” he laughed — and came back to the dugout beaming about getting his uniform dirty.
“Yeah, the slide was a little much,” manager Robin Ventura said, dryly. “I don’t know if he’s done it — he’s real proud of it, that he got dirty.”
“It was cool,” Sale said. “I tell these guys I had two accidents today: the homer and the hit. I found it really. I got lucky.”
[MORE WHITE SOX: Ventura sees Chris Sale growing into veteran role for White Sox]
Sale was all smiles after the game, but for a good portion of the evening it looked like the White Sox might waste another dominant outing from their ace.
The White Sox didn’t get a hit between Flowers’ one-out single in the fourth and Abreu’s leadoff single in the eighth. After loading the bases with nobody out in the second, Flowers struck out and Carlos Sanchez hit into an inning-ending double play. Adam Eaton meekly struck out with the go-ahead run on second in the top of the ninth.
Sale, though, was up to the challenge, most notably in pitching out of an eighth-inning jam to keep the score level at 1. After allowing back-to-back singles to Peter Bourjos and Grichuk, Sale struck out Jhonny Peralta — his 12th and final strikeout of the evening, all swinging — and got Mark Reynolds to fly out to strand the go-ahead run on second.
“In the end, I don’t have a better guy in the bullpen than him,” Ventura said. “So he’s going to go ahead and finish that and he deserves that."
[SHOP WHITE SOX: Get a Chris Sale jersey right here]
The win pushed the White Sox to 4-4 during Sale’s frenzied stretch of strikeouts, one that included back-to-back 2-1 losses. His win-loss record might not impress the old-school crowd, but he has a 2.87 ERA and 141 strikeouts in 103 1/3 innings. He’s put together a run of dominance only seen twice in baseball history and should be named to his fourth consecutive All-Star team this month.
While his team might not be winning games he starts at the pace it could be, Sale has kept his focus on what he can control. On Tuesday, it was fighting back baseball’s best team and, for one night only, contributing with his bat and legs, too.
“I don’t watch ESPN or anything like that, I don’t read too much in the newspapers and stuff,” Sale said. “You have a packed house tonight and the best team in baseball, if I’m not mistaken. That will get your focus on what you need to focus on.”