Chris Sale offered a reminder of why he’s one of baseball’s premier pitchers Sunday afternoon, with Cubs right fielder Jorge Soler the unsuspecting victim of the left-hander’s brilliance.
With the bases loaded and two out in the top of the sixth and the White Sox holding a three-run lead, Sale fired a dominant five-pitch sequence that ended with Soler watching a backdoor slider catch the outside corner for strike three. Sale started the at-bat with a low-80s slider, then fired a trio of 99 mile per hour fastballs before going back to the breaking ball to end the inning.
Sale’s fastball averaged 95.7 miles per hour on Sunday, according to BrooksBaseball.net, but he found an extra gear to retire Soler and keep the Cubs off the board in what turned out to be a 3-1 White Sox win.
“You see that of a lot of ace-type pitchers,” catcher Tyler Flowers said. “They seem to have that little extra in situations or against certain guys, certain counts.”
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Sale allowed one hit — Dexter Fowler’s one-out single in the sixth — and tied a career high with 15 strikeouts over his seven innings of shutout ball. He shut down a Cubs team that looks like a favorite in the National League Wild Card race and averaged 5.4 runs per game in August before Sunday.
Cubs All-Star first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts and a hit by pitch against Sale, was literally and figuratively blown away by the 26-year-old left-hander.
“He's the best in the biz, so yeah, hats off to him,” Rizzo said. “He made us look silly, but that's what he does. It was a small victory to get him out of there after the seventh, to get his pitch count up by striking out a bunch.”
I have to be honest we have not chance today with Sale he's was from another planet today. It's ok we have to lose sometime #WeAreGood
— miguel montero (@miggymont26) August 16, 2015
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Sale’s ERA sits at 3.32, though he’s been hurt by a bad defense behind him (his FIP is 2.41, which would be a career best; the White Sox defense has the second-worst UZR and DRS in baseball). The best workaround for Sale might be to just rack up strikeouts, which he succeeded in doing Sunday.
His 208 strikeouts lead baseball, and in late May and June he tied Pedro Martinez’s record for most consecutive starts with double-digit strikeouts (eight). When he’s on his game, opponents have little chance to hit him — “guess right and (hope) we miss a spot,” Flowers said — which was the case Sunday.
Soler, who homered off David Robertson in the ninth inning, didn’t have much of a chance with Sale spotting his wipeout slider and a near-100 mile per hour fastball in a key situation.
“It’s fun,” Sale said. “The crowd gets into it. People in the K Zone are going crazy for me. It’s a fun, fun time. You have balls leaving the park, guys hitting homers. It’s a fun atmosphere to play in. I wish we could do that more often.”