ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The story on Sunday afternoon should have been entirely focused on another brilliant turn by White Sox ace Chris Sale.
Sale was outstanding in a fifth straight start, historically dominant for the fourth consecutive time.
But a storyline that has dominated the first 61 games of the 2015 White Sox campaign interfered once again. Despite myriad chances with runners in scoring position, the White Sox offense failed miserably in a 2-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field.
Sale recorded his fifth-straight double-digit strikeout performance with 12 whiffs but was saddled with the loss because of his offense’s inability to score. The White Sox finished 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position and were limited to one or fewer runs for the 13th time in 61 games even though they had a runner at second base in each of the first six innings.
“It was phenomenal,” bench coach Mark Parent said. “Watching (Sale) pitch today was awesome.
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“The letdown is really not getting him some runs. But as far as the team goes, we need to start scoring some runs.”
The Rays made the most of their limited chances against Sale, who along with Pedro Martinez and Randy Johnson is one of three pitchers since 1914 to strike out a dozen or more in four straight starts.
Sale continued a run in which he has posted video game-type number for six innings on Sunday, outpitching Tampa’s Nathan Karns. Using only 20 pitches between the fifth and sixth innings, Sale -- who has 59 strikeouts in his last five starts and 79 over seven -- set down 11 straight into the seventh.
But with the White Sox ahead 1-0, Sale issued a leadoff walk to Steven Souza Jr. in the seventh and Asdrubal Cabrera got just enough of a 1-1 fastball to hit it out to left field to give the Rays a 2-1 lead. Cabrera’s third homer is only the seventh allowed by Sale this season.
“It sucks pretty bad to have them pretty much where you want them and then a stupid mistake walking the guy and leave a fastball right down the middle and lose the game,” Sale said. “It was just a two-seamer that didn’t really didn’t do anything other than go a long way.”
That was the only time Sale really flinched in a 125-pitch effort.
He put the first two men he faced on in the first inning and struck out Evan Longoria and got two more pop outs. After two reached with one out in the third, Sale struck out Longoria and Logan Forsythe. He retired the side in order in the second, fourth, fifth and sixth innings.
The White Sox couldn’t make it stand up, however.
Following Gordon Beckham’s first hit in 25 at-bats, a double, the White Sox pulled ahead in the second inning on a one-out RBI single by Carlos Sanchez.
But that was all they would muster against Karns and three relievers despite their chances.
“Kind of this whole series it seemed like we hit the ball better than the results showed,” catcher Tyler Flowers said. “We battled at the right times, we just couldn’t get anything to fall in.”
The White Sox mixed a series of hard-luck outs with missed chances -- a poor concoction for Sale.
Adam LaRoche struck out and Avisail Garcia flew out with two on to end the first. Jose Abreu grounded out and LaRoche struck out with a man on second in the third. Beckham and Sanchez struck out with a man on second in the fourth while Alexei Ramirez grounded out and Abreu popped out in the same situations in the fifth. Beckham grounded out after Melky Cabrera’s two-out double in the sixth.
Rays relievers then retired eight of the nine batters they faced as Kevin Jepsen earned the save.
Sale didn’t point any fingers at the offense, which has produced 16 runs for him while he has been in the game over his last five starts.
“I’ve had more than my fair share,” Sale said. “Today was my night to pick them up and I didn’t. Plain and simple, I got beat.”
The lack of offense has added up to too many losses for the White Sox, who are 28-33.
Despite a cash infusion of more than $70 million this offseason, the White Sox are on pace to score 587 runs. The 2013 club, which lost 99 games, scored 598.
The offense has produced three or fewer runs 31 times in 61 games and the club is 5-26 in those games.
“Sooner or later it’s got to change,” Parent said. “We’ve got to start getting some hits. We’ve got to start chasing each other around the bases. That’s what people are doing to us. We need to do it to them.”