Chris Sale delivered exactly what the White Sox needed in more ways than one.
The ace left-hander fired eight strong innings to pace the White Sox to a 4-2 win Sunday afternoon in front of 28,345 at U.S. Cellular Field. The win earned the White Sox their first back-to-back series victories since late April and saved a banged-up bullpen that’s been used plenty over the last week.
Sale scattered five hits and two walks and was the recipient of some solid defense behind him. Right fielder Adam Eaton threw out Josh Donaldson at second base in the first inning when the reigning American League MVP tried to stretch a line drive off the wall into a double, and a sterling double play turned by third baseman Tyler Saladino and second baseman Brett Lawrie erased a Donaldson single in the seventh.
Troy Tulowitzki and Junior Lake both blasted solo home runs in the top of the eighth, but that was the only damage Toronto was able to inflict against Sale.
The 27-year-old only sprinkled six strikeouts throughout the afternoon as he efficiently pounded the strike zone. 67 of his 99 pitches were for strikes as Sale became baseball’s 13-game winner on Sunday.
Eaton’s sacrifice bunt in the third scored Saladino to plate the White Sox first run in the third, and Melky Cabrera’s RBI single later in the inning brought home another tally. Cabrera finished the day with three hits, raising his season slash line to .297/.348/.467.
Tim Anderson led off the bottom of the fifth with a solo home run — his third of the season and second in as many days — and Eaton scored on a wild pitch from Blue Jays starter Marcus Stroman four batters later.
J.B. Shuck’s eighth-inning solo home run provided a much-needed insurance run with longball threats in Donaldson and Edwin Encarnacion looming in the top of the ninth. With a three-run lead, closer David Robertson breezed through a scoreless inning to earn his 20th save of the season.
Justin Morneau took 25 swings during batting practice on Saturday and bounced back well enough to hit in the cage Sunday morning, clearing another hurdle as the 35-year-old eyes his White Sox debut sometime after the All-Star break in July.
Saturday was the first day Morneau took batting practice since undergoing elbow surgery in the offseason. The 2006 American League MVP said he doesn’t have a hard timetable on when he’ll go out on a minor league rehab assignment but plans to keep taking batting practice and travel with the White Sox to Houston next weekend and make a determination from there.
“We have a plan that we want to make sure to not come back too soon and don't come back at less than what's going to be useful,” Morneau said. “You push it as much as you can, but you have to be smart about it, too, and realize that coming back too soon and not being completely healthy is going to hurt in the long run. It's a fine line of figuring out the best way to do it. But so far it's been good.”
Morneau has 13 seasons of major league experience but admitted he was nervous stepping in for batting practice on Saturday. He quickly felt better after taking a few swings and didn’t experience anything unexpected during or after his first batting practice session.
“It's different facing 65 than it is facing 95, too, so that'll be a test and then getting in the game and swinging and missing and all that kind of stuff,” Morneau said. “It’s a little more controlled when you know what's coming and you know every pitch is the same. But it's reacted well so far.”
Morneau traveled with the White Sox to Cleveland and Boston last week and has maintained a presence in the team’s clubhouse since signing a one-year, $1 million deal on June 9. The longtime Minnesota Twins first baseman was in the dugout when the White Sox blasted seven home runs on Saturday and had memories flash back of his time playing here as an opponent (in 64 games at U.S. Cellular Field, he hit 15 home runs with an .836 OPS).
“I saw that and went, 'There's a reason I remember I like hitting here,’” Morneau said.
Even though they tied a team record on Saturday afternoon, the White Sox became only the third team in baseball history to hit seven home runs in a game and lose.
Brett Lawrie produced his first multi-homer game, but a poor outing by starter Miguel Gonzalez did in the short-handed White Sox, who lost 10-8 to the Toronto Blue Jays in front of 25,776 at U.S. Cellular Field.
The seven home runs -- all solo shots -- matched an April 23, 1955 performance at the Kansas City Athletics. But it wasn’t enough to prevent them from falling below .500 as Gonzalez allowed eight runs in 5 1/3 innings. Dioner Navarro, J.B. Shuck, Tim Anderson, Alex Avila and Adam Eaton all homered in the loss.
“I don’t think I’ve seen that before,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said.
While it may not be as unprecedented, the workload has been hefty for the White Sox bullpen over the last week. The group had combined for 26 1/3 innings in the team’s previous seven games and needed a lengthy effort from Gonzalez. Ventura said afterward he ruled relievers David Robertson and Nate Jones, who each appeared in five of those games, and Matt Albers and Zach Duke, who had four each, out of action.
So it couldn’t have been easy for Ventura to stomach when Gonzalez allowed five consecutive first-inning hits and fell behind 3-0. Devon Travis made it a five-run game in the second inning with a two-run homer.
Starved for length from the starting pitcher, Ventura stuck with Gonzalez, who retired the side in order in the third. But the Blue Jays continued to add on against Gonzalez, pushing across three more runs in the fourth inning. Josh Donaldson drew a bases-loaded walk with two outs to make it a 6-3 game and Edwin Encarnacion’s two-run single again pushed the deficit to five.
While Gonzalez pitched a scoreless fifth inning, he was lifted after a one-out double in the sixth by Ezequiel Carrera.
“We've got to win that game,” Gonzalez said. “That can't happen. I have to be more consistent.
"It's frustrating not to be a little bit more consistent early in the ballgame.”
Gonzalez is now 1-3 with a 7.83 ERA in four home starts this season.
Encarnacion doubled in an insurance run and Troy Tulowitzki singled in another in the ninth off rookie Michael Ynoa to give Toronto a 10-7 lead.
Despite facing big deficits all game, the White Sox didn’t surrender.
Lawrie’s inside-the-park-home run with two outs in the second off R.A. Dickey lit a fuse. It was the first inside-the-park-homer by a White Sox player at U.S. Cellular Field since Chris Singleton on Sept. 29, 2000.
Navarro then lined one out to right to make it 5-2 and Shuck followed with his first homer since April 19, 2014 -- a span of 318 plate appearances. It’s the first time the White Sox hit three consecutive homers since they hit four in a row against the Kansas City Royals on Aug. 14, 2008.
Lawrie’s solo homer off Dickey in the fourth made it 8-3 as he became the first White Sox player since Ron Santo on June 9, 1974 to have both a traditional homer and an inside-the-park-homer in the same contest.
The White Sox added a run in the sixth on an RBI single by Lawrie to make it 8-5, but reliever Jesse Chavez stranded a pair of runners.
Anderson’s homer off Drew Storen in the seventh made it a two-run game and Avila’s oppo-shot off Jason Grilli in the eighth got the White Sox within a run.
Eaton homered in the ninth, too, but it wasn’t enough.
“They’ve got a well oiled machine over there,” Eaton said. “They’re tough to compete with. At the same time, you hit seven home runs, you think you should win the ballgame. But that's the way baseball goes. Baseball is a weird game.
“It's a tricky game. You can never really predict it.”