Tim Anderson arrived to the ballpark in a good mood Tuesday.
To be fair, Anderson usually is in a good mood. But the shortstop’s smile flashed a few extra teeth because it was Chris Sale’s turn to take the mound.
“The day he’s pitching, I’m excited,” Anderson said. “Because it’s going to be a great show.”
It also might have been the last show. Robin Ventura said after the game that the team had not decided whether its 27-year-old ace would start Sunday’s season finale or be shut down.
Sale matched a career high with his 17th victory as the White Sox routed the Rays for a 13-6 win. He settled down after a bumpy start to limit Tampa Bay to three runs in seven innings. He struck out seven to increase his season total to 227 strikeouts in a career-high 221 2/3 innings.
Afterward, Sale said the decision to start one more game was not his to make. But he spoke as if his season was finished, assessing his achievements in past tense and vowing to be better in 2017.
“I feel as good now as I ever have on a baseball field, physically,” Sale said. “I think this year was the best overall in terms of feeling strong at the end and still having more in the tank.”
A drama-filled campaign soon will change genres to mystery for Sale. He is under contract through 2019, including a pair of team options, but the Sox could listen to trade offers this winter.
Sale said he never contemplated whether Tuesday’s start might have been his last in a Sox uniform.
“That stuff is going to work itself out,” Sale said. “I don’t read too much into that stuff. So whether I’m here, there or anywhere – a little Dr. Seuss for you – I’ll be there.”
Yet Sale is not ready to close the book – children’s or otherwise – on his tenure in Chicago.
“I can’t say this from experience, but I don’t think there’s probably a better feeling than winning with the team that drafted you and staying with the team that drafted you,” Sale said. “Talking with Paulie a little bit in his final year, he definitely had some very good things to say about staying with one team and being here from start to finish.
“But this is baseball, this is sports. You can’t always choose and pick what you want to do or where you want to be.”
Ventura smiled when asked whether Sale showed maturity and growth as the season progressed. During spring training, Sale ripped management after Adam LaRoche retired rather than limit his son’s presence in the clubhouse. In July, Sale served a five-day suspension after destroying uniforms.
“Yeah, we’ve had some fun ones,” Ventura said. “Again, he’s grown up here, and now you’re looking at him as the guy for the staff, has been here the longest. I think that’s a part of growing up. He’s the lead guy and the anchor.”
Ventura said his relationship with Sale was strong, not strained.
“I think some of it gets blown out of proportion,” he said. “Him and I, we have frank conversations. I think that’s part of having a healthy relationship when you can say what you want to say.”
Sale said he could improve as a pitcher and teammate.
“No matter what you’ve done, where you’ve been, who you are, you can always be better,” Sale said. “That doesn’t always mean on the field, either. I’ll just try to be better all the way around next year and hopefully make a push for meaningful games this time here.”