White Sox ace Chris Sale blazed through his first nine starts before running into his first dud of 2016.
He made no excuses.
“We didn’t lose tonight, I lost,” Sale said. “I stunk, I was bad, I was terrible.”
Attempting to become the eighth pitcher in major-league history to win his first 10 starts in a season and only the second since 1920 (the Padres’ Andy Hawkins did it in 1985), Sale’s brilliant run came to an abrupt halt when the Indians tagged him for three runs during an excruciating 43-pitch third inning.
They got to him for another three in the fourth on their way to a 6-2 victory before 21,550 fans who came to U.S. Cellular Field expecting to see more greatness but had to settle for applauding the KO’d left-hander after manager Robin Ventura pulled him an out into the fourth.
“They had some good at-bats against him,” Ventura said. “They got to a guy that has been rolling along. He was up there velocity wise. That’s uncharacteristic for him. Just seemed like everything seemed a little harder than normal. Changeup probably was a little harder than it has been in the past. I think that separation wasn’t as good tonight.”Sale (9-1, 2.26 ERA) had set the bar remarkably high by going 9-0 with a 1.58 ERA in his first nine starts. He was coming off consecutive complete-game victories against the Yankees and Astros.
But after allowing two singles and striking out five of the first 10 Indians he faced, he walked Jose Ramirez, gave up a single to Francisco Lindor, then watched Mike Napoli’s drive to left-center fall just beyond the extended glove of center fielder Austin Jackson for a two-run triple. Carlos Santana followed with a walk before Juan Uribe singled in another run.
In the fourth, Chris Gimenez led off with a 422-foot home run. After Michael Martinez became Sale’s seventh strikeout victim, Rajai Davis and Ramirez walked before Lindor knocked Sale from the game with an RBI single that made it 5-1. Santana added a sacrifice fly against Zach Putnam later in the inning, but that run also was charged to Sale.
While Sale was putting it all on himself, catcher Alex Avila second-guessed his own pitch calling. He also credited a scrappy Indians lineup.
“When you face a guy like Chris, it’s almost like you grind out your at-bats a little more,” Avila said. “They did that really well today. They capitalized on a couple mistakes that were made and were able to push the runs across.”
“Yeah, they’re grinders,” Sale said. “They’re were they are for a reason and you’ve just got to find a way. You’ve got to find a way. That’s what the good ones do and I wasn’t that tonight.”
Sale’s final line showed seven hits, six runs, four walks and seven strikeouts. He threw 89 pitches, 60 for strikes.
“Any time you see that, you are surprised,” Ventura said. “This is an off night for him. The best part is it’s not anything physical as far as he was hurting. He had velocity. He probably had too much of it. I think on secondary pitches.”
“I’m not going to pinpoint this or that,” Sale said.
“I’m not a big fan of this, but after watching video, figured out some things and saw some stuff that I was doing. Just got to tighten that up and move on.”
Sale has downplayed his personal achievements in the past and he didn’t care to dwell on that 9-0 start.
“No. Past doesn’t matter,” he said. “It’s about right now, today. You can’t go out there — nine wins didn’t get me anything tonight. So why am I going to look for that?”
Sale has had blips in the past, and this outing appeared to be nothing more than that. On the downside, the Sox have come to expect victory on days Sale pitches, and this loss dropped them to 27-20. They have lost eight of their last 11 games and 10 of the last 14.
Adam Eaton homered against Indians right-hander Josh Tomlin to lead off the first, giving the Sox a 1-0 lead. The matchup between Sale and Tomlin (7-0) was only the fourth in major-league history featuring pitchers who were 6-0 or better, according to Elias.
The Sox scored their second run on a double by Brett Lawrie in the fourth, but Lawrie was caught in a rundown on Avisail Garcia’s grounder to short. After he was tagged out, Garcia was caught leaning too far off first for a double play.