Chris Sale has developed into a full-blown stopper.
The four-time All-Star snapped a four-game White Sox losing streak on Thursday night with a four-hit complete game in a 2-1 victory over the Houston Astros in front 20,096 at U.S. Cellular Field. Sale struck out nine and walked none in a 107-pitch effort.
Sale’s third complete-game effort of the season earned him his ninth win in nine starts. He’s the first American League pitcher with a victory in each of his first nine games, relief appearances included, since Detroit’s George Uhle in 1929.
“He’s pretty darned good,” shortstop Jimmy Rollins said. “What he’s doing hasn’t been done in an awfully long time. It’s special.”
Regardless of how things have gone, Sale has become the guy his teammates can count on. After a brilliant start, the White Sox had lost six of their last seven games. But before they left on Wednesday night, third baseman Todd Frazier asked Sale if he was pitching on Thursday. When Frazier learned the left-hander was starting, he told Sale they’d win.
“When you see a guy like that you raise your level,” Frazier said. “(As an opposing hitter) you understand that if I get that one pitch and I don’t do something with it, it’s basically game over, and that’s what he’s been doing, and it’s been lights out. … You see it in our defense and in our actions. We want to win those games.”
Just as he did last Friday in New York, Sale delivered. He was once again remarkably efficient, especially in the middle innings.
At one point, Sale retired 12 in a row after Evan Gattis singled with two outs in the second inning. He needed only eight pitches to retire the side in the fourth, 11 in the fifth and six in the sixth despite a two-out single by Jose Altuve. Sale only needed 11 pitches to breeze through the seventh inning and nine in the eighth even with a solo homer by Gattis that made it a one-run contest.
“Just not throwing so many anger pitches and not maxing out on every single pitch I throw,” Sale said. “You need quick innings. Sometimes when you pile up strikeouts, you get into 18, 19 pitch innings and if you are trying to get deep into games, it’s not going to work out too well. I’m just trying to hit my spots. Location, location, location.”
Sale blended efficiency with a few strikeouts. He moved from 10th place in franchise history in strikeouts into a tie for eighth, surpassing Doc White (1,067) and tying Ted Lyons at 1,073.
Sale struck out two batters apiece in the second, seventh and ninth innings. He blew Altuve away with a 94-mph fastball to start the ninth inning and finished the game with a called third strike of Tyler White, the third time he struck out the Houston DH.
Rollins has played behind other great pitchers on similar runs. The same goes for Sale as it did whenever Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee, Clayton Kershaw or Zack Greinke took the mound.
“You just really hoping to get them, really, one run because you know what it’s like on the other side when they’ve got a guy like that on the mound,” Rollins said. “One run for a guy like Chris, those good starters, can sometimes feel like four.”
The White Sox did just enough against Collin McHugh.
Todd Frazier reached on an infield single in the second, stole second base and scored on a two-out RBI single by Jerry Sands. Then they gave Sale some insurance in the seventh. Rollins had an infield single, stole second base and moved to third on another single by Sands. Alex Avila’s sac fly made it a 2-0 game.
Even though Sale gave back a run on the Gattis eighth-inning homer, he never lost control.
Sale had only thrown 93 pitches entering the ninth and didn’t flinch when George Springer singled with one out. Based on their conversation in between innings, White Sox manager Robin Ventura knew his trip to the mound to remind Sale to pay attention to Springer with two outs would be a brief one. It lasted about two seconds.
“He came out of the eighth and he just said it was his,” Ventura said. “That's what great pitchers do, they can be stoppers. I want him pitching all the time. Whether you're winning or losing, you like when he's going to the mound. For us, it was needed for him to go out and do what he did tonight.”