OAKLAND, Calif. — The 4-3 White Sox victory over the Oakland A’s on Monday night wasn’t without its warts.
They ran into outs on the bases, failed to get a sac bunt down and consecutive relief pitchers issued leadoff walks late in a one-run contest. But it was what the White Sox did around those plays that had them victorious instead of lamenting a close loss.
Chris Sale overcame a shaky early inning and took advantage of four early runs before his defense and bullpen did just enough to secure a victory. Sale struck out eight in seven innings and David Robertson pitched a scoreless ninth for his first save.
“It wasn’t pretty,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “Good to get this one out of the way.
“We got a win, and we’ll take it.”
Given Sale nearly surrendered a 4-0 lead in the third, the White Sox have to be pleased to have pulled this one out.
Making his third Opening Day start in four seasons, Sale appeared to entirely lose his rhythm in a 34-pitch frame. He retired the first seven batters he faced before yielding a one-out infield single to Stephen Vogt and Oakland’s offense woke up.
Sale said he tried to do too much and walked Marcus Semien. One out later, Jed Lowrie lined a 96-mph fastball up and away into right field for a two-run single to make it a 4-2 game.
Sale missed high with several fastballs in the inning. Josh Reddick and Danny Valencia followed with singles, the latter driving in another run to make it 4-3. But Sale struck out Khris Davis to strand runners on the corners and leave Billy Butler — who doubled twice — in the on-deck circle.
“Held it together and thankfully we got out of it,” Sale said. “I don’t know if I was overthrowing. Maybe just trying to do a little too much. That’s a tough team. This is a great atmosphere, really.
“They feed off of it. You just have to take that into consideration and try to not get overwhelmed.”
The sellout crowd had more to cheer in the eighth and ninth innings. Jake Petricka took over for Sale — who allowed three earned runs and seven hits in seven innings — and walked Lowrie.
But Zach Duke retired Josh Reddick on a comebacker and Nate Jones got two batters, including a strikeout of Davis to strand the tying run at second.
Robertson also started his inning with a walk of the speedy Coco Crisp. But he bounced back with a strikeout of Chris Coghlan and Brett Lawrie ended the game with a nice sliding stop in right field, throwing out Yonder Alonso at first with Robertson on the cover.
The White Sox had a handful of nice defensive efforts. Jose Abreu smothered two grounders at first, Sale made a nice play on a comebacker in the fifth and catcher Dioner Navarro picked off Billy Burns at first base to end the seventh inning.
“We put the preparation in spring training, work hard and we put ourselves in a position to win and it showed tonight,” said leadoff man Adam Eaton. “We’ll continue to believe in our preparation and allow our preparation to instill confidence in everybody and play a good brand of baseball.”
Sale dominated Oakland’s offense on both sides of the third inning.
He blew 97-mph fastballs by Lowrie and Davis in the first two innings for strikeouts. And after Butler opened the fourth with a double, Sale retired 11 of the last 12 he faced.
That made a four-run rally in the third hold up.
Eaton jump-started the offense against Oakland replacement starter Rich Hill.
With a man on third, Eaton — who didn’t have an RBI until his 109th plate appearance last season — tripled to deep center to make it 1-0.
Jimmy Rollins followed Eaton with a bloop RBI single to right to give the White Sox a two-run cushion. He advanced to third on Abreu’s double and both scored on a two-out error by first baseman Mark Canha.
But that was all the White Sox would get.
Oakland relievers retired 11 straight White Sox hitters into the seventh. Austin Jackson, who scored on the triple, and Eaton singled. But reliever John Axford won an 11-pitch battle against Abreu to strand the runners.
The White Sox didn’t help themselves on the bases, either.
Eaton was picked off in the first inning after Hill hit him with a pitch (the A’s starter also hit Abreu in the frame).
Navarro popped out on a ninth-inning bunt attempt after Lawrie led off with a single. Lawrie was then picked off by Sean Doolittle to end the ninth.
But the White Sox prevailed anyway and that’s plenty for Sale and Ventura.
“It’s like the first strike of the game, once you get the first strike of the game, once you get the first win of the year, you kind of exhale a little bit and just go from there,” Sale said. “Business as usual.”