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Chris Sale wins 14th, White Sox cool off Astros

Chicago White Sox starting pitcher Chris Sale delivers in the first inning of a baseball game against the Houston Astros, Saturday, July 2, 2016, in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)

HOUSTON – If Chris Sale wins his final start before the All-Star Game, likely to be made on Friday against the Atlanta Braves at U.S. Cellular Field, the White Sox ace would take a 15-2 record into the Midsummer Classic.

That would seem to make him a virtual shoo-in to get the nod to be the starting pitcher July 12 in San Diego, which Sale says would be cool and all but is holding off talking about it until he’s done with taking care of White Sox business first.

To that end, Sale pitched well enough – with the backing of 13 hits from the Sox lineup — to a 7-6 victory over the red-hot Houston Astros Saturday at Minute Maid Park.

By settling down to retire 13 of 14 Astros in a stretch after getting nicked for four runs and finishing with nine strikeouts and one walk, Sale became the fourth Sox pitcher to reach 14 wins before the All-Star break and has the most since left-hander Wilbur Wood won 16 before the break in 1974. Sale (14-2, 2.93 ERA) has a chance to tie Pedro Martinez (15 wins in 1999) and David Wells (15 in 2000) for the most wins by an AL pitcher before the break since 1990.

“He finds a way and continues to impress,’’ said manager Robin Ventura, who has been touting his ace as the best pitcher in the AL.

Sale will leave the accolades for others, calling the 14 wins “one more than 13” and leaving it at that.

“It’s nice, it’s important,’’ he said. “But I’ve said it a million times, there’s only one won-loss record that matters.’’

The Sox’ record which Sale says means the most is at 41-40 at the halfway point of the season. They certainly have the look of a .500 team, but with an opportunity to win a fourth straight series Sunday – three of them against good teams — they continue to take themselves seriously as a postseason contender.

“Tomorrow we have to come and win the series,’’ said Adam Eaton, thankful his teammates picked up him on a day he ran into two outs.

“If we focus on that, we’ll be fine. Can’t chase the guys winning 14 in a row [the division leading Indians]. You have to win series every three or four days.’’

The Sox backed Sale with 13 hits including J.B. Shuck’s third homer in seven games, and designated hitter Dioner Navarro’s two-run triple and two-run single against Astros starter Doug Fister (8-4).

Every Sox had at least one hit except for catcher Alex Avila, who walked twice and scored a run. When A.J. Green homered with two outs in the ninth against closer David Robertson (22nd save), it turned out every last hit was needed.

“Yeah, I felt a sense of responsibility,” Sale said. “Those first three innings were tough, having my guys pick me up. After that, I was like it’s time for me to do the same for them. Just try to get in a groove and keep rolling with it.”

Shuck’s homer was the 15th in a row for the Sox with no runners on base, tying a club record set in 1965. Garcia’s two-out single, followed by Shuck’s RBI triple and Tim Anderson’s RBI double in the eighth gave the Sox a 7-4 lead.

Even though Sale entered with a 4-1 record and 0.66 career ERA against the Astros, beating them was no small feat. They are 11-2 in their last 13 games, including a 5-0 win in the series opener Friday.

“His slider was really good good today, especially going in on the righthander,’’ Avila said. “When he kept it down it was a good swing-and-miss pitch for him. They’re a good team in this ballpark. If you can make pitches and get ahead of this team you can get strikeouts.”