White Sox

White Sox catcher Alex Avila explains why Chris Sale and Justin Verlander are so good

White Sox catcher Alex Avila explains why Chris Sale and Justin Verlander are so good

Two of the best pitchers in baseball went head-to-head for the second time this season and in the last week.

Chris Sale and Justin Verlander squared off at U.S. Cellular Field on Monday just five days after seeing each other on the mound at Comerica Park.

Similar to last week, both pitchers had strong outings again on Labor Day in front of 18,653 fans, which resulted in a 5-3 White Sox loss in 11 innings.

“You're talking about two of the best pitchers in the league over the last 10 years, you know what you're getting when they come to town,” Sale said. “Just try to be as good as you can and go from there.”

Sale pitched eight innings with eight strikeouts and allowed two earned runs on six hits. Verlander went seven innings with 11 strikeouts, tying his season high, and surrendered two earned runs on eight hits.

“They have the type of stuff if they do make a mistake they can get away with it,” White Sox catcher Alex Avila said, who caught Verlander in Detroit from 2009-2015. “And the reason they’re also good is they can command multiple pitches on both sides of the plate. That’s why they’re as good as they are.”

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Verlander now has 209 strikeouts on the season, making it the sixth time the righthander has accomplished having 200 or more in a season. Sale is not far behind at 193, which are seven away from his fourth straight season with 200+ K’s.

“It’s a great matchup,” Ventura said. “Both guys were strong. Even a day that you know the conditions are very offensive. Even with the fly ball, the first fly ball of the day, you see anything really in the air going to left field, if it’s hit decent, it’s going to go.”

That’s exactly what happened with Avila, who took advantage of a four-seam fastball on the first pitch he saw in the seventh inning and homered in the second straight game against Verlander. In both games against his former teammate, Avila went 1-for-3 with one homer and two strikeouts.

“I wasn’t trying to hit a home run,” Avila said following his sixth home run of the season. “He just missed his location. He was trying to go away and it was more middle. With him he’s so tough because this year with as hard as he’s been throwing he’s been able to live at the top of the zone with the fastball. It’s kind of riding on you and it’s tough to gauge which one is a strike or not.

“A lot of times it depends on the umpire. Depending on the umpire you can have a tough day out there, plus with a three o’clock game you can’t see for six innings.

“With him you have to make sure he is down and when you get it down in the zone don’t miss it.”

And having caught Verlander for seven years in Detroit may have helped.

“I will say having faced him this year, going into the games, I didn’t have to do any type of homework before the games,” Avila said. “I already understood what he was going to be trying to do. He’s tough, and he’s throwing the ball really well.”

You can't script this: Eloy Jimenez smacks game-winning homer in first game at Wrigley Field

You can't script this: Eloy Jimenez smacks game-winning homer in first game at Wrigley Field

Had this been the scripted outcome, it would've sounded a little too cheesy.

But in reality, it was a moment that got White Sox fandom as excited as the dude rounding the bases.

Eloy Jimenez, playing in his first game at Wrigley Field nearly two years after the Cubs traded him to the White Sox, smacked a game-winning homer off Pedro Strop in the ninth inning, breaking a 1-all tie and giving the South Siders a 3-1 victory in the first Crosstown game of the 2019 season.

Jimenez had been asked countless times about what it would be like to play in the park he long assumed would be the one where he played his big league games. And he expressed excitement, though committed to saying it would be like any other game.

It wasn't.

Jimenez had a disappointing outcome in his first at-bat of the evening, ending a bases-loaded, one-out situation in the first inning with a double play. He singled and walked in later plate appearances, but nothing was anywhere near as dramatic as his trip to the plate in the ninth. He hit Strop's pitch so hard it sounded like he broke his bat. The ball still ended up in the left-field bleachers.

One ninth-inning blast in June 2019 won't rip the rebuilding White Sox contention window open immediately, but what an image of rebuilding progress it was, with Jimenez, the middle-of-the-order centerpiece for the next decade, blasting a game-winner against the Crosstown-rival Cubs.

Jimenez's permanent smile was indeed present as he rounded the bases, made even bigger by his Tuesday night heroics. The White Sox are hoping they were the first of many.

 

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Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: It's that time again: Ricky's Boys vs The North Siders

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USA TODAY

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: It's that time again: Ricky's Boys vs The North Siders

Ozzie Guillén and David DeJesus join Leila Rahimi on a special Crosstown edition of Baseball Night in Chicago.

Listen to the full episode here or via the embedded player below: