NEW YORK – Chris Sale has achieved so much already in four full seasons as a starting pitcher, including the franchise season strikeout record in 2015, All-Star games and top-six Cy Young voting in each one and a club record 32 career games of 10 strikeouts or more – including a run of eight straight starts last season with 10 or more Ks.
But Sale had never raced to an 8-0 start, until Friday that is, when he breezed past the New York Yankees in a 7-1 complete-game victory to halt a two-game White Sox losing streak while becoming the fourth pitcher in franchise history to win his first eight starts.
He has four more to go to catch Eddie Cicotte, who won his first 12 for the 1919 Black Sox, but Sale joined John Whitehead (8-0 in 1935) and Jon Garland (8-0 in 2005) by winning eight out of the gate. He’s the first pitcher in the majors to win his first eight since Brandon Webb was 9-0 in 2008 for the Arizona Diamondbacks.
“You always feel like you might see something special,’’ said catcher Alex Avila, who caught Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander with the Detroit Tigers before joining the Sox this season. “That was the big thing with Scherzer and Verlander, was every time they were pitching, you really got a feeling that something special’s gonna happen. It’s definitely a similar feeling [with Sale].’’
At Yankee Stadium, where Sale embraced the history of the place, calling it “the Coliseum of baseball” he allowed six hits, struck out six and walked none in notching his second complete game of the season and 10th of his career. He threw 99 pitches, 71 for strikes.
“Add 8-0 to the list that he’s had throughout his career,’’ right fielder Adam Eaton (3-for-4, 2 RBI) said. “There are a number of things he’s done that nobody else has done or very few have done. Add it to the list.’’
Sale has accounted for a third of the Sox’ victories, helping them build the American League’s best record at 24-12. With a major league high in wins, he’s almost halfway to his career high of 17 in 2012, his first year as a starter, and the Sox aren’t even a fourth of the way through the season.
And with an ERA of 1.67, he may be pitching better than ever, with wins are piling up because the Sox are scoring runs for him. For the fourth straight time, the they provided Sale with at least six.
“I don’t know if there’s a starting pitcher in the league that would complain about that,’’ Sale said.
“I’m not going to say it makes it easier, but it just takes the pressure off you and allows you to go out there and focus on throwing strikes. It makes it a little bit less stressful.’’
The Sox spotted Sale a three-run lead in the second back-to-back doubles by Brett Lawrie and Avila and a two-run single by Jose Abreu against struggling Yankees starter Luis Severino, who would leave during the third inning with a sore right triceps and will go on the 15-day disabled list.
After the Yankees’ Chase Headley – a noted thorn in Sale’s side, homered leading off the second, the Sox scored four in the third on Eaton’s two-run double and Jimmy Rollins’ two-run homer.
After that it was cruise time from there for Sale, who retired 15 in a row from the fourth inning through the eighth.
Sale hasn’t had a 10-strikeout game, but the aim from spring training was to throw fewer pitches and go deeper into games.
“That’s the new him,’’ manager Robin Ventura said. “He can get strikeouts when he needs to. But he understands the way we used our bullpen in Texas [last series] for him to go out there and do that is a big shot in the arm.’’
Asked if Sale is the best pitcher in the AL, Ventura said, “I know he’s very good and he’s playing for the White Sox. I could give a s— if you want to say he’s the best pitcher in the American League. I know he’s going to be very good for us.’’