Chris Sale flirted with a perfect game in another historic performance on Friday night.
But the White Sox didn’t back him and even though Sale retired the first 17 batters and struck out 14, the Texas Rangers rallied in the ninth for a 2-1 victory at U.S. Cellular Field in front of 22,864.
Sale not only joined Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez as the only pitchers in major league history to strike out at least a dozen batters in five straight starts, he had the White Sox in line to snap a seven-game losing streak until David Robertson allowed a bases-loaded, two-run pinch-hit single to Mitch Moreland. The eight-game losing streak is the team’s longest since Aug. 28-Sept 7, 2013.
“Sale did exactly what you want an ace to do in a situation like this,” Robertson said. “I went out there and stunk it up and gave it up tonight. It was a poor performance on me. I should have been there to pick the team up. We needed this one really bad. This one hurt.”
[SHOP: Buy a Chris Sale jersey]
Robertson got the call with the White Sox holding a 1-0 lead because the White Sox want to keep Sale healthy.
Not only had Sale already thrown 111 pitches on Friday, he made 125 in his previous start in Tampa Bay on Sunday. With that in mind, White Sox manager Robin Ventura called upon Robertson, who got into trouble when he walked Shin-Soo Choo walked and Elvis Andrus singled with one out. Both advanced on a wild pitch before Robertson struck out Joey Gallo. The White Sox intentionally walked Prince Fielder and pinch hitter Mitch Moreland ripped a 1-0 fastball to right for a single.
“If this was probably later on and you were in the playoffs, you might send (Sale) back out there,” Ventura said. “But he’s got a long way to go in this season and you’re trying to take care of him, too.
“He’s the crown jewel of our pitching staff and you have to take care of that. Other guys have a job to do.”
Sale did his with aplomb against the sleep-deprived Rangers, who arrived in Chicago at 5 a.m. from Los Angeles. He struck out two batters in four of the first six innings.
Jose Abreu nearly gave away Sale’s shot at perfection in the fourth when he bobbled an Andrus grounder only to recover with a blind, back-handed flip that Sale caught with his bare hand for the out. Sale struck out Joey Gallo to end the inning and motored on until Hanser Alberto broke up Sale’s bid for a perfecto with a soft liner into center for a single. But Sale quickly rebounded with a five-pitch whiff of Shin-Soo Choo, his 10th strikeout. Not only did that extend Sale’s franchise record for double-digit strikeout performances to 25, it makes Sale the first pitcher since Johnson in 2002 to accomplish the feat in six straight starts.
Sale struck out Gallo again in the seventh inning and returned to strikeout the side in the eighth inning, too. His strikeout of Ryan Rua to start the eighth put him on par with Johnson and Martinez.
Over his last six games, Sale has 71 strikeouts versus seven walks in 45 1/3 innings. He’s allowed seven runs (six earned) and 22 hits.
In the dozen-over-five starts-stretch in which he has matched Martinez and Johnson, Sale has 65 strikeouts and six walks in 38 1/3 innings. Martinez was the last pitcher to have at least 12 strikeouts in five straight starts from Sept. 4-27, 1999 for the Boston Red Sox. Johnson’s run went from June 19-July 11, 1998 while he pitched for the Seattle Mariners.
As good as he was, Sale didn’t flinch at Ventura’s decision, not with Robertson in the bullpen. Robertson has converted 13 of 17 opportunities this season.
“You can almost guarantee that’s not gonna happen too many times with him on the mound,” Sale said. “He’s one of the best in the game.
“Given the circumstances and everything, there’s a reason. It’s an easier decision when you got a guy like that coming in, too.”
The White Sox offense continues to make life difficult for the rest of the team. Even though they finished with nine hits, the White Sox were 1-for-6 with runners in scoring position and stranded 10. The White Sox stranded two in the first and the ninth, had a runner thrown out at home in the fourth and left ‘em loaded in the seventh.
Tyler Flowers, who reached base all three times, provided the only run with a fifth-inning solo homer.
“We had some opportunities, there were some chances to score some runs, we didn’t do it and that’s -- you start looking at the things that are going on, we need to be able to score some more runs for him,” Ventura said.