NEW YORK -- With another big cushion courtesy of his offense, Chris Sale cruised to his eighth victory in eight starts on Friday night.
Sale took advantage of two early crooked numbers and the White Sox rebounded from a pair of tough losses with a 7-1 victory over the New York Yankees in front of 34,264 at Yankee Stadium. Jimmy Rollins hit a two-run homer and Adam Eaton and Jose Abreu each drove in two runs for the new-and-improved Sale, who became the fourth White Sox pitcher to ever win his first eight starts. Sale, who at one point retired 15 straight batters, needed only 99 pitches for his second complete game of 2016.
“Any time Chris gets (run support) he’s going to be extremely tough,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “Tonight, not gearing it up [unless] he had to. He can go get it, but for him this is a different guy. He can strike people out, but you’re seeing a more effective guy who can go deeper into games. The last couple of years he wouldn’t have been able to do this, finish off games.”
The White Sox haven’t had much of an offense to brag about the past few seasons.
While more proof is needed, and another left-handed bat would be swell, the White Sox have been a tough out the past 17 games. Entering Friday, they scored 94 runs in a 16-game span after only producing 61 in their first 19 contests.
The White Sox broke through in the second inning against Yankees starter Luis Severino (0-6), who needed a nice defensive play with two outs in the first inning to rob Melky Cabrera of an RBI single.
Alex Avila got them going with an RBI double in the second inning and Abreu singled in two more with two outs to make it a 3-0 game.
The White Sox poured it on in the third inning when Eaton, who reached base in four of five trips, doubled in two and Rollins followed with a second-deck homer to right to make it 7-1. It’s the fourth straight start in which the offense has produced at least six runs for Sale, who entered ranked 26th of 147 starting with a per game run support average of 5.47.
“You’re not going to hear me complain,” Sale said. “When the guys go out there and do that, it takes the pressure off you and your main goal after that is just throwing strikes. I was using my defense and I started getting to where I was abusing them a little bit.
“It takes the pressure off of you as a pitcher.”
Sale makes it sound as if he has eased off the accelerator.
He continues to attack the strike zone and keep hitters off balance by adding and subtracting fastball velocity to go with a nasty slider and changeup. The combination has produced a lot of weak, early contact and a plethora of quick innings.
Sale allowed a Chase Headley homer in the second inning to make it 3-1, but bounced back fast.
He retired the side in order in the third inning on five pitches and never looked back. Sale needed only nine pitches in the fifth, 11 in the sixth and 11 in the eighth. The low pitch count and an overworked bullpen made it an easy decision for Ventura to send Sale back out for the ninth inning.
“It's something we had talked about in spring training, as far as adding that,” Avila said. “A guy like him, he can strike guys out. You want him to take that next step where he can be that ace, going out for that seventh, eighth, ninth inning is huge. It's huge over the course of a season, being able to give the guys in the bullpen a blow, being that guy that stops a losing streak. There's gonna be times where he's gonna need to just air it out. That's the way it is. But being able to pitch at different speeds gives him another pitch, we're able to get quick outs that way and kind of pick and choose when you need to go get a strikeout.”
After Brett Gardner’s second-inning single, Sale retired 20 of 21 batters into the ninth. He allowed a run and six hits with no walks and six strikeouts.
Sale joins Eddie Cicotte (who won 12 straight in 1919), John Whitehead (eight in 1935) and Jon Garland (eight in 2005) as the only White Sox to win their first eight starts.
“I wouldn’t be here without these guys,” Sale said. “When your team puts you in a position like that, it makes it a little bit less stressful.”