Chris Sale stopped a two-game losing streak in his previous start, and his White Sox teammates upped the ante for this one. Called on to halt a four-game skid, the ace left-hander responded in customary fashion with a complete game, 2-1 victory Thursday night over the Houston Astros at U.S. Cellular Field.
It was the second complete game in a row for Sale, who beat the New York Yankees 7-1 on Friday.
“It’s what the great pitchers do,’’ manager Robin Ventura said.
Sale became the first pitcher to start a season at 9-0 since Brandon Webb of the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2008 and the first to be 9-0 with an ERA under 2.00 since Sal “The Barber” Maglie of the New York Giants in 1952. He is the second Sox pitcher to win his first nine-plus starts, joining Eddie Cicotte (12-0) in 1919.
Sale allowed four hits, walked none and struck out nine. He finished it off by striking out cleanup man Tyler White looking on a back-door slider. He lowered his ERA to 1.58.
“Everyone should know how we feel about him,’’ Ventura said. “He’s one of the best in the game. He’s special, and I just see him continuing to get better.’’
Sale needed 107 pitches, throwing 80 strikes.
“He’s electrifying when he wants to be, but this year he’s being a little bit more pitch efficient around the strike zone,’’ Astros manager A.J. Hinch said before the game. “He’s not hunting strikeouts near as much as he seemed to be in previous seasons. It doesn’t mean he can’t strike you out.’’
“Just smarter, too,’’ Sale said. “I’m not throwing as many anger pitches or hate pitches. And rely on my defense. That’s the key to all of this. That’s the master plan.’’
The White Sox improved to 25-16, a record stained in the last week by six losses in seven games. With the Kansas City Royals coming to town for three games this weekend, it was time to stop the bleeding.
“He got that kick start going for us,’’ third baseman Todd Frazier said. “Now it’s time for the bats to come alive this weekend with the Royals.’’
Astros right-hander Collin McHugh (4-3, 5.58 ERA coming in) made Sale work with no margin for error throughout. The Sox led 1-0 on designated hitter Jerry Sands’ two-out RBI single that scored Frazier from second. Frazier led off the inning with an infield single and stole second.
The Sox wasted a good chance in the sixth when Adam Eaton led off with a triple but did not score.
The Sox got their second run in the seventh when Jimmy Rollins led off with an infield single, stole second, went to third on Sands’ single and scored on catcher Alex Avila’s sacrifice fly.
Evan Gattis homered to left on Sale’s first pitch of the eighth, making it 2-1. Sale retired the next three batters in order.
“He came off in the eighth and he just said it was his,’’ Ventura said. “Instead of me having to make a decision it was simple. He was going to finish it off.’’
Sale will go for his 10th win likely against the Indians next week. Wilbur Wood with 13 wins in 1973 and Red Faber with 10 in 1921 are the only Sox pitchers to win 10 games before June.
“I had Johnny Cueto one time with the Reds but this is something special,’’ Frazier said. “He just goes out there and dominates.
“When we had one run it was like, ‘that’s basically enough.’ That’s the feeling you got.’’
Ventura gave a quick visit to the mound in the ninth, to make sure Sale didn’t forget about George Springer (one-out single) on first. David Robertson was warming, but it was Sale’s game to lose.
A revved up crowd of 20,096 helped him to the finish line, Sale said.
“There’s nothing like running out there in the ninth and having that extra boost from the crowd,’’ he said. “Every pitch I threw in the ninth, I felt it.’’
Tying his season high of nine Ks, Sale passed Doc White and tied Ted Lyons for eighth place among Sox all-time strikeout leaders (1,073). He didn’t walk a batter for the fourth time this year.
Sale has recorded three complete games. The last Sox pitcher with three or more in his first nine starts was Jack McDowell in 1991 (three). The last pitcher with three or more in his first nine starts was Cueto in 2014.