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.
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“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.
“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.”
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.”