HOUSTON — It won’t always work this way for John Danks, but it looks pretty spectacular when it does.
With a Sunday gameplan that called for keeping the ball down, throwing strikes and utilizing his defense, Danks accomplished something no White Sox pitcher has done in 41-plus years when he pitched a complete-game shutout despite giving up at least 10 hits.
Backed by a strong defensive effort, Danks became the first White Sox pitcher since Stan Bahnsen on June 21, 1973, to complete the feat as the left-hander led the White Sox to a 6-0 victory over the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park.
Danks, who made his longest start in 53 weeks, also became the club’s first pitcher since Chris Sale on May 12, 2013, to throw a complete-game shutout as the White Sox evened their record on the road trip at 4-4. The White Sox, who went 9-9 in 18 games played over 17 straight days, are off Monday.
“That’s how you draw it up,” said catcher Tyler Flowers, one of five White Sox hitters to drive in a run. “We got ahead of the majority of guys, executed some pitches, two out of the first three for strikes, put the pressure on them to put something in play. Towards the later innings (Danks) started leaving some pitches up ... kind of hurt us a little bit. But we did a good job getting out of jams.”
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Danks didn’t shy away from contact against a team that leads the major leagues with 68 home runs.
He induced three double-play balls and got 13 outs on the ground, including the final two with the shutout on the line.
White Sox manager Robin Ventura briefly visited Danks with one out in the ninth to give him a breather after a one-out double by Evan Gattis and a Chris Carter walk. Two pitches later, Danks got Luis Valbuena to swing at a 0-1 cutter that resulted in a nicely turned 4-3 double play by Carlos Sanchez.
Sanchez also stabbed a Jose Altuve liner with the bases loaded and one out in the third inning to start a 4-6-3 double play that ended with a spectacular diving stop by first baseman Adam LaRoche. And Gordon Beckham, who made three great plays at third, started a 5-4-3 double play off Gattis’ bat to end the sixth.
“I feel like I didn’t give in at any point,” Danks said. “I was able to throw pitches for strikes any time. Kept the ball in the ballpark. That’s a big thing for me this season: walks and home runs. Limited both, and it worked out.”
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Danks also had some good fortune, too.
With his team trailing 4-0 and no outs in the fifth, Houston’s Jonathan Villar tripled over Adam Eaton, who broke in, only to be thrown out at home trying to stretch it into an inside-the-park-home run. In the seventh, Villar overran third as Sanchez kept Jason Castro’s single from leaving the infield, which led to an inning-ending rundown.
“We played good defense today behind him,” Ventura said. “You get (Beckham) over there, and we have a little more range when he’s over there, and even Sanchy, some of the plays. We turned a double play with the bases loaded. Rochie over there with the nice pick, keeping his foot on the bag. That’s just limiting the other team to do that.”
All of it added up to a much-needed victory for Danks, who has recently struggled. After a pair of strong starts earlier this month, Danks had allowed 11 earned runs in his last 10 1/3 innings. The victory in front of 15 to 20 friends and family members is also the first for Danks in five starts against the Astros. It also marked Danks’ first shutout since Aug. 27, 2011.
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A Jose Abreu-less offense put him in good position to beat Houston.
Flowers’ two-out RBI single in the second put the White Sox ahead for good. Conor Gillaspie singled in two in the third inning, and Alexei Ramirez made it 4-0 with an RBI fielder’s choice.
Sanchez had a two-out RBI single in the sixth, and LaRoche homered in the seventh inning.
“I’ve been saying for the last five days that I need a good one,” Danks said. “It’s just the last couple I’ve struggled. Hopefully, this will jumpstart a nice little run. That’s the goal every time out. Go as deep as possible and give us a chance to win. These guys scored plenty of runs, enough to kind of let us relax.”