Chris Sale runs on high octane as it is. Add a Wrigley Field element and a White Sox hot streak to the mix and, look out.
“Early on he was maybe a little too jacked up,’’ catcher Tyler Flowers.
“With the atmosphere today, he was throwing harder, he probably exerted himself a little more than he has all year,’’ manager Robin Ventura said. “He just couldn’t slow himself down. But he was still fantastic.”
Matched up against $155 million lefty Jon Lester in his final appearance before the All-Star Game, Sale — who had his record streak of eight consecutive games with 10 or more strikeouts snapped when he fanned six Blue Jays in a complete-game shutout his previous start – struck out 10 Cubs in the White Sox’ 5-1 victory Saturday at Wrigley Field.
Leading 5-0 in his first career start at Wrigley, Sale did not allow a run until Jonathan Herrera’s RBI double in the seventh inning, a run that stopped the Sox’ scoreless inning streak at 30 innings, the club’s longest since the 1986 when the Sox strung together 31 straight and four shy of the club record 35 in 1965.
“It was great,’’ said Sale, who improved to 8-4, lowered his ERA to 2.72 and raised his strikeout total to an American League best 157 over 119 1/3 innings. “This was my first time pitching here, so you definitely feel it. A bunch of people screaming their heads off, and given the rivalry and what it is, you get a little hyped. But you go out there and my guys put two on the board before I even took the mound. That helps calm the nerves a little bit.’’
Sale enjoyed a rare 2-0 first-inning lead after Adam Eaton’s leadoff double off the left-center field vines, Tyler Saladino’s triple to right-center (his first major league hit) and Jose Abreu’s RBI single through a pulled-in infield.
Lester settled in and retired 14 straight batters but the Sox got three runs against him in the seventh on an RBI single by Alexei Ramirez and a two-run double off the center field wall by Flowers.
Sale gave up one run on six hits and one walk. Relievers Jake Petricka and Zach Duke finished it off as the Sox (41-44) won their fourth straight and ninth in the last 11. They’ll go for a series sweep Sunday, the last game before the All-Star break.
“Everything is starting to click a little bit more,” Flowers said.
Indeed. With Ramirez appearing to be out of his defensive funk at shortstop, Carlos Sanchez playing well at second and Friday AAA call-up Saladino getting a good test Saturday and looking like he might stabilize third base, an infield defense that was a sore spot for most of the first half is becoming trustworthy. Avisail Garcia even contributed a running catch in the right field corner.
“Good defense all the way around for us,’’ Ventura said. “That’s the way we’re going to have to play. We have to play good, clean baseball and I think the way our infield is starting to shape up, the way we’re playing defensively and the way our guys are pitching … ”
Well, that’s been off the charts. Sox starters own a 1.99 ERA over the last 11 games, and the bullpen hasn’t been scored on in the last five.
As good as it’s been, no one has been better than Sale. Perhaps in all of baseball. Over his last nine starts, he owns a 1.59 ERA with 103 strikeouts over 68 innings.
“It’s fun,’’ Sale said. “You’re coming in here laughing, joking, hearing some music playing. You get on rolls like this, you’ve just got to keep going. Been through a bump in the road. You look at it as that and keep going.’’