Chris Sale set a new franchise record on Sunday afternoon by becoming the first White Sox pitcher to have 200-plus strikeouts in four consecutive seasons, but the White Sox offense had only two hits in their 2-0 loss to the Kansas City Royals at U.S. Cellular Field in front of 20,107.
The White Sox ace fanned 12 more batters, increasing his strikeout total to 205 this season. Max Scherzer is the only other pitcher with 200-plus strikeouts in each of his last four seasons, according to CSN stats guru Chris Kamka.
Sale enjoys the accomplishment, but his mind is taking him somewhere else.
"I don't want to act like it's not cool or like I'm unappreciative of it, but there's not a single part of me that wouldn't give all that to be in the playoffs four years in a row," he said.
It was Sale’s 34th career game with 10-plus strikeouts, also a team record. He has twice as many than Ed Walsh, who is second on the list with 17, according to Kamka.
Sale believes that this is the strongest he's ever been at this time of year.
"I feel good. There was a lot of work that went into that, not only by myself but people I'm surrounded by," Sale said. "It starts in the offseason and then gets into spring training. I like where we're at right now, the way my body's feeling and how it's reacting. You just try to keep riding it out."
Sale pitched eight solid innings and allowed two runs – both solo homers – on eight hits and one walk. Homers came from Kendrys Morales in the second and Eric Hosmer in the sixth. Hosmer’s home run was the third of his career off Sale, the most the White Sox southpaw has allowed by a left-hander.
The White Sox are 2-8 in Sale’s 10 starts since the All-Star break despite nine being quality starts. Sunday’s outing lowered his overall ERA to 3.03 on the season.
With three or four starts remaining, manager Robin Ventura thinks Sale still has a shot to win the American League Cy Young Award. As for Sale, he's not really thinking about it.
"Like I said before, I let all that stuff work itself out," Sale said. "I go up there and I pitch for this team, and I pitch for my teammates and the fans and myself. Anything other than that, I don't worry about it."
Sale (15-8) pitched himself out of a couple big jams in the fifth and seventh. He allowed the first two batters to get on in the fifth, but struck out the next three to escape the inning unscathed. Again in the seventh, Sale gave up a single and a double to lead off the inning. But he struck out the next batter and forced a double play to end the inning.
"He gets in a jam he can strike people out," Ventura said. "I think that’s where he reaches for a little bit more and goes after. I think his slider is sharper at that point. He’s learned to kind of pace himself and go along but he always has the ability to strike people out. That’s what makes him dangerous, that’s what makes him good.
"For him to wiggle himself out of it, he doesn’t need anybody else to help him with that. He can do it."
The White Sox offense didn’t do him any favors, either.
Their only two hits of the afternoon came from Adam Eaton – in the first and ninth inning. The White Sox bats were shut down for a majority of the game.
"(Royals starter Ian Kennedy) was working the corners really well," Eaton said. "Working the corners, doing what he does. He sinks it, he cuts it and he's got a good curveball. That kept us off-balance today. That's no excuse. Sale goes out and pitches a heck of a game, does what he does, we need to scrap across a few runs.
"We've been swinging the bats well, though. Not to say that one day out of five we can falter. With that being said, we've got to do better for Sale."
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The team's best chance came in the third inning, where the White Sox failed to capitalize with the bases loaded after three batters reached on walks.
The White Sox stand at 68-74 on the season and are on the verge of their fourth consecutive losing season.
With the offseason approaching, it's uncertain what the future holds for Sale and the White Sox. If it were up to him, he'd like to stay here in Chicago.
"That will shake out on its own," Sale said. "I wear this uniform with a lot of pride, and I hope I can continue to do that."
Sale is in the prime of his career and continues to be more dominant as time passes. But even at 27 years old, Sale believes his best days are still ahead of him.
"I'm a very competitive person," Sale said. "I enjoy competing against other people but against myself, as well. Every year, it doesn't matter who you are, you could be the best of the best or the worst of the worst, and you still want to be better.
"You look at a guy over in L.A. with (Clayton) Kershaw, you think you've seen it all, and he just gets better. You take after that and you watch people around you and you just keep working hard and try to be better every time out no matter what the result last time was."