DETROIT – Alex Avila was told five days in advance he’d be catching Chris Sale in Wednesday’s matinee matchup against his former batterymate, Justin Verlander.
“I’m sure a lot of people were excited about this matchup,’’ Avila said. “I know I was. It was a good baseball game. That’s what I love.’’
Avila and Jose Abreu’s solo home runs against Verlander was all the White Sox’ could muster against Verlander in the former Cy Young and MVP’s seven innings. Sale, the Sox’ five-time All-Star and Cy Young candidate, pitched eight innings of two-run ball. Both aces were gone when the Tigers walked off in the ninth inning with a 3-2 victory against closer David Robertson.
Sale, who unlike Avila, the former Tiger and son of the Tigers general manager, hasn’t enjoyed a playoff experience during his excellent career, took a different view of Wednesday’s loss which completed a three-game sweep for the Tigers (71-61).
“I don’t come here for the experience, I come here to win games and it didn’t happen today,’’ Sale said. “It’s tough.’’
Sale hasn’t enjoyed a winning experience since 2012, when the Sox were in first place for most of the season, only to be passed by the Tigers in the AL Central in manager Robin Ventura’s first season. Having a talent of his pedigree on their side has done nothing to make them a postseason team, which is why the front office will consider trading him during the offseason.
It’s obvious Sale’s patience for losing is wearing thin, and this team, which had a smidgen of momentum going before this road trip, has a full month of meaningless games remaining.
“You just pick yourself up,’’ Sale said. “There’s no sense in stirring it up or focusing on anything. Just pick yourself up and be ready to win a ballgame tomorrow.’’
All that aside, this game was – for eight innings, anyway – an entertaining tussle featuring two of baseball’s elite pitchers.
Sale finished with six strikeouts – all in his last four innings — while walking four. He lowered his ERA to 3.10 while covering eight innings or more for the third straight time. The no-decision leaves his record at 15-7.
“He threw the ball well, a little different than his last couple of starts,’’ Avila said. “A lot of offspeed early, locating and changing speeds really well. His slider was great, especially later in the game. He got some early contact in the game, got [three] double plays with his changeup.’’
Verlander allowed only three hits while walking none and striking out nine. His 10th consecutive quality start matched the longest streak of his career.
“He has pitched great all year, really exposing hitters’ weaknesses with that mid-90s fastball, staying at the top of the zone with that,’’ Avila said. “His slider-cutter worked well for him. He’s pitching great, it’s tough to get runs off him.’’
The Tigers tied it in the eighth when Ian Kinsler doubled to right center, advanced to third on Jose Iglesias’ sacrifice and scored, after Sale struck out long-time nemesis Victor Martinez for the second time, on J.D. Martinez’s single to left.
In the ninth, rookie JaCoby Jones led off against closer David Robertson (Sale was done with 111 pitches) with a double, moved to third on Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s deep fly to right and scored on Tyler Collins’ short fly to left fielder Avisail Garcia.
Garcia, who had a major league high 17 outfield assists in 2015, caught the ball flat-footed and got nothing on a throw that died near Robertson in the infield grass.
Perhaps a good throw to Avila wouldn’t have challenged Jones. In any event, it was a deflating way to end it.
“I didn’t think he was going to be able to get him,’’ Ventura said. “Jones runs pretty good.’’
Sale pitched pretty good but there he was on the losing end.
“That’s a good team,’’ he said of the Tigers, who are 78-49 against the Sox since 2010. “That’s what good teams do, they find ways to win.’’