As strikeout artist Chris Sale tears through opposing batters in spectacular fashion, adding a fourth season of pitching excellence to a career that seems destined for greatness, another White Sox season is all but assured to pass by without a postseason.
Barring a minor miracle, 2015 will come and go falling well short of expectations, short of the playoffs for the seventh season in a row and for the ninth time in 10 years since the Sox won the World Series in 2005.
A paid crowd of 17,812 Wednesday night at U.S. Cellular Field watched Sale, a civic baseball treasure, strike seven Red Sox over seven scoreless innings in a 3-0 White Sox loss.
In short, it was a wasted effort in a season going to waste despite Sale’s spectacular contribution.
“Any time you have Sale out there and he’s throwing up zeros,” manager Robin Ventura said, “you want to scratch something across. So yeah, it becomes frustrating.”
The Sox were shut out for the eighth time. Rick Porcello, fresh off the disabled list with a triceps injury, tossed seven scoreless innings as well and got the win thanks to Travis Shaw’s two-run homer against reliever Nate Jones in the eighth inning.
Sale’s performance was appreciated as he hiked his season strikeout total to major-league best 229, surpassing his career high 226 set in 2013. He walked off, a no-decision and a 3.20 ERA in tow, to a nice ovation, locked in a scoreless duel with Rick Porcello and maintaining a pace for 300 Ks, which would be the most in the majors since Randy Johnson struck out 334 and Curt Schilling fanned 316 in 2002.
“Yeah, I mean it’s cool,” Sale said of reaching his career high. “But at the end of the day, there’s really only one stat that matters and that’s wins.”
At age 26, 300 would be quite the feat. And quite a waste, really, knowing what an asset Sale would be in a wild-card playoff or multiple starts in a division playoff series and beyond.
Sale, who is under Sox contract control for four more seasons, has a better chance of being mentioned with Ferguson Jenkins, Felix Hernandez and Wilbur Wood in conversations about the best pitchers never to start a postseason game if the Sox front office doesn’t build a winner around him.
When Sale shrugs off individual accomplishments and talks team, it sounds sincere. He yearns to pitch in the postseason.
“I would love it,” he said after Wednesday’s Sox loss. “That’s the whole part of playing. Really, we show up to spring training, every team shows up with the same goal and that’s getting to the postseason. It doesn’t matter how you get there.”
Sale has been an All-Star in each of the last four seasons, his first four as a starter, and the Sox are 51 games under .500 in those four years: 85-77, second place in the AL Central in 2012; 63-99, fifth place in ’13, 73-89, fourth place in ’14; 59-66, third place in ’15.
The Sox, and Sale, say they haven’t given up on slim wild-card hopes. That’s what players always say, no matter the odds, and Sale will fight to the finish.
“This is definitely crunch time,” he said. “We know what we are up against, but you know this is baseball. This is sports. This is a crazy game. Anything can happen. We aren’t giving up on the season. We definitely aren’t going to give up on ourselves or each other.’’
As the Sox head to likely finishing well below .500, Sale will still be there to be watched and enjoyed.
“Playing behind him is a treat,” rookie third baseman Tyler Saladino said. “You’re watching one of the best pitchers in the game. He does his thing.
“It’s just awesome watching him out there.”