ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – White Sox fans haven’t had much to cheer about during this disappointing season, but they do have Chris Sale.
Their prized left-hander continued his assault on opposing hitters and record books Sunday, striking out 12 Tampa Bay Rays – Sale’s fifth straight game with 10 or more strikeouts and fourth in a row with 12 or more, numbers that put the 26-year-old in the same class with names like Sandy Koufax and Pedro Martinez. But a 2-1 loss that completed a three-game sweep was the latest glum reminder that something so good, so special, seems to be going to waste.
The Sox couldn’t muster enough offense, leaving runners in scoring position in five of the first six innings against right-hander Nathan Karns.
“It almost seems like we have to be perfect a lot of times because we’re not scoring a lot of runs,’’ acting manager Mark Parent said. “It’s tough on them. When you get an outing like you got from [Jeff] Samardzija yesterday or Sale today, which was amazing, it just seems like he deserves seven or eight runs
“We just need to pick it up offensively, that’s for [darn] sure.’’
Sale was the third pitcher since data is available to strike out 12 in four consecutive starts. Martinez did it in 2001 (he had a streak of five in ’99) to go with a four-game streak in 1997. Randy Johnson strung together five straight of 12 or more in 1998. This was Sale’s 24th game with 10 or more, in 97 starts.
“The maturity of Chris Sale from this year to last year is going through the roof, just on and off the field,” Parent said. “It seems like he has really matured to that next level, almost superstar-type guys.”
While blaming himself for walking the leadoff hitter in the seventh and allowing a two-run homer to Asdrubal Cabrera, Sale did his part. Meanwhile, watching him blow through opposing is bittersweet because that three-time All-Star talent was a big reason why the front office accelerated its rebuilding plan and spent big on new additions Samardzija, Melky Cabrera, David Robertson and Adam LaRoche over the offseason.
The Sox went into Sunday’s game in last place in the AL Central, and as enjoyable as it is watching Sale dominate, it would be tough to watch it go to waste should the Sox continue to flounder as a team.
“You have to overlook that,’’ Sale said of the Sox’ pitter-patter offense.
“That’s a bunch of crap if you ask me. You look at my last few starts and I’ve had more than my fair share [of runs]. Today was my night to pick them up and I didn’t. Plain and simple. I got beat.
“It sucks pretty bad — to have that team pretty much where you want them and then a stupid mistake walking the guy and leave a fastball right down the middle and lose the game. There’s really nothing more than that.’’
Protecting a 1-0 lead after Carlos Sanchez drove in Gordon Beckham with a single in the second inning against right-hander Nathan Karns, Sale breezed through the first six innings, retiring 17 of 19 before the leadoff walk in the seventh.
Sale is in some kind of zone with an ERA of 0.92 in his last four starts, overlapping a a stretch of three straight starts of 12-plus Ks with one or no runs allowed. He and Koufax are the only ones who’ve done that.
Sale himself had a tough time finding words to describe it.
“Yeah, I feel like I had pretty good feel for all three of my pitches, being able to throw them for strikes,’’ he said. “Tonight I was off a little bit and I was able to corral that in. I’m doing same. I wish I could tell you. I just go out there and try to pitch.’’