Strikeout record escapes Chris Sale, but Blue Jays don’t

SHARE Strikeout record escapes Chris Sale, but Blue Jays don’t

Considering that White Sox pitcher Chris Sale was the one chasing a strikeout record Monday night, it wasn’t a good sign when easy throwing Blue Jays pitcher Mark Buehrle had one more K than Sale did after two innings

And that Buehrle only had one at that point.

If you were further looking for omens, it didn’t bode well that Sale gave up a home run in the third inning before he got his first strikeout two batters later.

But when he started the fifth inning with a strikeout of Chris Colabello, the man who had homered off him, Sale had four strikeouts and the thought bubble above heads all over The Cell were pretty much in agreement: “Maybe. Just maybe.’’

Sale was trying to become the first pitcher in major-league history to strike out 10 or more batters in nine straight games.

It was a very cool story while it lasted. It lasted until Monday, when the Blue Jays refused to go down swinging. Or looking. Sale had six strikeouts, meaning he’ll continue to share the record of eight straight games of 10 or more strikeouts with Pedro Martinez.

He got a complete-game, 4-2 victory — with victories, by the way, still being the whole idea in baseball. The crowd seemed to want the record more than Sale did.

“Every time there was two strikes, everyone was making some noise, but it’s fun,’’ he said. “It didn’t work out, but I’ll take this outcome over that any day.’’

It was quite a night of pitching in Chicago. The Cubs’ Jon Lester took a no-hitter into the seventh inning at Wrigley Field before the Cardinals’ Jhonny Peralta singled on an infield grounder. Lester went head to head with John Lackey.

On the South Side, Sale and Buehrle, the former Sox star, put on a show in a one-hour, 54-minute, why-can’t-it-always-be-this-fast game.

The strikeout mark Sale was chasing is not a record kids grow up hearing about. It’s not Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak or Pete Rose’s 4,256 hits. But it speaks to something elemental to many of us: A man standing on a mound of dirt and throwing a baseball with all his might. We Americans like our fastballs as fast as possible and our home runs as long as possible.

So there was Sale on Monday, trying to feed us while pitching against one of the best-hitting teams in baseball. Coming into the game, the Blue Jays were first in the majors in slugging percentage, second in home runs and fourth in batting average.

He was chasing history, but Toronto wasn’t chasing pitches out of the zone.

“It wasn’t really a big strikeout night for him,’’ manager Robin Ventura said. “But as far as command, he had everything.’’

Until definitive medical research tells us otherwise, Sale is composed solely of knees and elbows. When he unwinds to throw a baseball, it’s like an ironing board being opened. There is no pitcher that skinny, and there is no pitching motion that has so many acute angles.

If you’re a left-handed hitter facing the left-handed Sale, here’s a handshake and a lovely parting gift. By the time the ball leaves his hand, it appears to be coming at you from between first and second base. At 98 m.p.h.

That doesn’t just him unique. That makes him scary as hell.

“You don’t have that much time if it’s at your head,’’ Ventura said. “You have to decide in the box if you want to eat a few months out of a straw or not. You have to make a decision whether you’re looking fastball or slider. Most guys choose to live another day (and guess fastball).

“Randy (Johnson) had that. He threw hard enough that you couldn’t just sit there and say I’m going to sit for a slider. If one got away and it’s a fastball, it wasn’t going to be good news for you.’’

Buehrle has made a career out of smarts and location. His perfect game for the Sox in 2009 was even more impressive because he’s not a power pitcher. But to call Buehrle the anti-Sale isn’t fair to Sale, a cerebral pitcher as well.

“He’s built to pitch,’’ Sox pitcher Jeff Samardzija said. “If you look at him, he’s one solid muscle. He loves to throw, and he knows how to throw, too, which is the scary thing. He doesn’t just have good stuff, he knows where to put it and when to put it there. Those combinations, you’ve got a pretty special thing on your hands.’’

The Sox know it. And the Blue Jays, if they didn’t know it before, know it now.

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