NEW YORK -- Chris Sale is close to setting a White Sox franchise record for strikeouts in a season. But he’s also on the verge of establishing a personal high for home runs allowed.
Sale struck out eight New York Yankees on Thursday night in a quest to surpass a mark set by Ed Walsh 107 seasons ago. He also left one pitch in the zone and Carlos Beltran made it count with a three-run homer as the White Sox dropped their ninth straight at Yankee Stadium, 3-2. One batter after Beltran homered, Sale earned the 1,000th strikeout of his career.
“Clearly you want to keep the ball in the yard,” Sale said. “I haven’t really done a great job of that this year at all. It happens.
“Clearly that’s not what I wanted to do. But it happens and you move on and you try to keep them rightwhere they are at.”
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Sale did shut down the Yankees after Beltran homered to give New York a 3-0 lead in the third inning as he retired 14 of 17. He also moved within two strikeouts of tying Walsh’s record (269), one Walsh established in 1908 in 464 innings pitched.
But a combination of an offense that -- surprise, surprise -- struggled again and a good guess by Beltran led to the sixth straight White Sox loss in a Sale start.
Sale -- who has 267 strikeouts in 2015 and has matched runs produced by Hall of Famers Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez -- began the third inning by hitting Jacoby Ellsbury. Ellsbury stole second base, but was ruled out on runner’s interference on a Chase Headley infield pop up. Sale walked Alex Rodriguez to put two on for Beltran. He got ahead 1-2 in the count with three straight fastballs before he left a 2-2 heater on the inside corner and Beltran ripped it over the left-field fence to give the Yankees a 3-0 lead.
“That was a good pitch today, smart hitter,” catcher Tyler Flowers said. “If we threw anything else I can’t imagine (Beltran) was gonna have a good swing. It seemed like he really went for it and he was right. Good hitters do that from time and time and he evidently had a good idea we weregoing to try and do that and put a great swing on it. It was a borderline strike, a little in. Unfortunate time to have that happen. “Other than that, (Sale) threw the ball again great as usual.”
Sale allowed three earned runs and seven hits with a walk and eight strikeouts in seven innings and gave the White Sox a chance to rally against Michael Pineda and Co.
Trayce Thompson got the White Sox on the board in the sixth inning with a solo homer off Pineda. An inning later, Thompson drew a bases loaded walk against Dellin Betances to get the White Sox within a run. But Betances struck out Adam LaRoche to leave the bases loaded. Thompson also struck out with the bases loaded in the third inning and the White Sox left two on in the fifth.
The White Sox left 10 on base and finished 1-for-6 with runners in scoring position.
“That’s all it takes,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “It’s a professional at-bat by Beltran. He’s been a good hitter, clutch hitter. They have a lineup that’s full of those kind of guys. They’re a tough lineup to get through, and it just takes one, and one will get you when there are a couple of guys on. Three-run homers are killers, and this one was.”
The homer was the seventh allowed by Sale in his last four starts and he’s only one shy of the 23 allowed in 2013. While he leads the league with 11.92 strikeouts per nine and began the day with a 2.70 Fielding Independent Pitching, which ranks fourth in the majors, Sale has also seen an increase in homers allowed.
Whereas Sale yielded 0.67 homers per nine innings in 2014, he’s up to a career high 0.98 this season, the 34th most among qualified pitchers, according to fangraphs.com.
Flowers said he doesn’t know why Sale’s homer total has increased before adding, “there was a little something going on before but we’re past that now.” Flowers wouldn’t confirm if he meant Sale previously tipped his pitches.
Sale was also at a loss for why he’s allowed 10 more homers this season compared to 2014.
“It’s a question you’ll have to ask those guys really,” Sale said. “I don’t know. I assume most are on fastballs where I’m trying to go in and don’t really get it. That’s something I really couldn’t give you an exact answer on. It’s something I definitely need to clean up.”