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Chris Sale fans 15 in Sox’ 3-1 victory over Cubs

BY TONI GINNETTI  – For the Sun-Times

Left-hander Chris Sale isn’t invincible, as his 1-3 stretch just after the All-Star break would attest.

He didn’t get past the sixth inning in two of those starts and gave up double-digit hits in two.

Then there are games like the one Sunday against the Cubs.

‘‘He was fantastic today,’’ manager Robin Ventura said after the White Sox’ 3-1 victory that salvaged the last game of the series. ‘‘I don’t know too many times when he’s been better. He’s had some come close to that, but right from the start of the game when he strikes out the side, you’re feeling pretty good about it. He was darn-near unhittable.’’

He didn’t go past the seventh inning because of his pitch count (116).

It wasn’t until there was one out in the sixth that the Cubs got a hit, a clean single by Dexter Fowler. No one else came close.

‘‘I guess the best you can do is try to find a good pitch to hit, run his pitch count up and get him out of the game and go from there,’’ Fowler said.

Sale (11-7) struck out 15 Cubs, walked two and hit Anthony Rizzo with a pitch. The hit, one of the  walks and Rizzo’s hit by pitch came in the sixth to load the bases, the one threat Sale faced.

But he got Jorge Soler to look at a third strike to end the inning, then came back to strike out the side in the seventh — the third time he struck out the side.

‘‘I think today showed a lot about him, getting in that little jam and really reaching back and getting something extra and then coming back out the next inning,’’ Ventura said.

‘‘He’s tough when he hits spots — and when he does, it’s impossible,’’ catcher Tyler Flowers said.

‘‘I think he’s always an ace. Even his bad outings are. If you can see his lack of command, lack of execution at times and still how effective he is, he’s just blessed with a heck of an arm and an arsenal.

‘‘On his bad days, I still don’t want to face him.’’

Sale matched his career high in strikeouts and also surpassed the 200 mark for the third consecutive season.

Hall of Famer Ed Walsh, who pitched for the team from 1904 to 1916, is the only other Sox pitcher to do that.

‘‘I don’t know [if it was my best game],’’ Sale said. ‘‘For me, just go into it as another game and try to give your team a chance to win. It’s a hot day, and you try to make it quick. You don’t want to leave the guys out there too long.

‘‘I felt loose. I felt good. I never put too much emphasis on pre-game bullpens or the first inning. But I knew if I could corral it and keep it together, I could possibly get deep into the game.’’

Reliever Nate Jones, who struck out the side in the eighth, also impressed.

The 18 total strikeouts set a club record for a nine-inning game and were the most in a nine-inning game since Sept. 25, 2012, when Angels pitchers struck out 20 Mariners.

‘‘There’s never been an easy game,’’ Sale said. ‘‘This is major-league baseball, and you’re going to have to work for everything you get.’’

Cubs manager Joe Maddon thinks Sale is only beginning to come into his own.

‘‘He’s just scratching the surface,’’ Maddon said. ‘‘He’s going to keep getting better.’’

Follow me on Twitter @toniginnetti.