Shortly after Sunday’s 3-1 White Sox victory over the Cubs, Jose Abreu asked a clubhouse attendant to have Chris Sale autograph a baseball for him.
Abreu said the ball is a gift for his son, but nobody could blame him if he kept it for himself after Sale’s dominant performance in the finale of the 2015 Crosstown Cup.
Sale matched a career high with 15 strikeouts and didn’t yield a hit until the sixth inning as the White Sox won in front of 39,475 at U.S. Cellular Field.
Abreu, Alexei Ramirez and Melky Cabrera all homered off Dan Haren as the White Sox stopped the Cubs’ nine-game winning streak and evened the teams’ season series at three games apiece. The series tie means the White Sox — whose pitchers struck out a franchise-record 18 and combined on a three-hitter — retained the Cup after they won three of four meetings in 2014.
“Everybody knows the quality he has,” Abreu said through an interpreter. “We have to thank God because he’s with us. He’s an outstanding pitcher, probably one of the best in baseball right now, and every time he’s on the mound for us — I don’t know how to explain it because he’s unbelievable.”
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Sale’s fastball-slider-changeup combo did all the talking from the outset.
The left-hander struck out the side on 14 pitches in the first inning and didn’t have a batter put the ball in play until Jorge Soler reached on an error in the second. Sale struck out two more in the second inning, another in the third and got all three batters in the fourth. His first eight strikeouts came via swings.
“He was ready to go,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “He was fantastic today. I don't know, not too many times he's been better than that. He's had some that were close to it, but right from the start of the game, when he strikes out the guys in the first inning, strikes out the side, you're feeling pretty good about it. He was darn near unhittable for the time he was in there.”
Sale only got into trouble once as he loaded the bases in the sixth inning, hitting Anthony Rizzo on a pitch on which he appeared to not check his swing. Dexter Fowler ended Sale’s no-hit bid with a clean, one-out single to left in the sixth, and Chris Denorfia drew a walk ahead of the Rizzo at-bat.
But Sale got out of it with a strikeout of Soler, who took a 1-2 slider just off the outside corner for a called third strike.
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Starting the seventh inning with 104 pitches, Sale struck out Addison Russell on three offspeed pitches, got Starlin Castro on a 2-2 slider and blew Miguel Montero away with a 1-2 fastball that registered 95 mph.
Sale struck out eight of nine Cubs starters, including Kris Bryant three times.
He limited the Cubs to a hit, two walks and a hit batter over seven innings and threw strikes on 73 of 116 pitches.
“A couple of guys had tough days against him,” catcher Tyler Flowers said. “A couple of guys he executed every pitch in every at-bat against him. On their end they just have to top their cap. He’s tough when he doesn’t hit spots, and when he does it’s almost impossible.”
It wasn’t much easier against Nate Jones, who struck out the side on 13 pitches in a scoreless eighth inning, including pinch-hitters Kyle Schwarber and Chris Coghlan. Jones’ final strikeout established a new franchise record for the White Sox in a nine-inning game as they bested the previous mark of 17 from Sept. 13, 2014.
“I wouldn’t say I knew the exact number,” Sale said. “But I knew they were getting up there. It’s fun. 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.”
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Abreu relishes the opportunity to play behind Sale. When Sale is as outstanding as he was against the Cubs, Abreu said the offense wants in the worst way to get him a victory. Abreu’s opposite-field drive in the third got that campaign started with Ramirez contributing in the fourth and Cabrera in the fifth.
The three-homer showing helped Sale to his 11th victory and netted Abreu a nice keepsake for his son.
“When Sale is on the mound he motivates you to do your best, and you’re not thinking about the other team, you’re thinking about your team and your teammates and that’s the only thing you have to take care,” Abreu said. “He’s so dominant.”