Chris Sale wasn't perfect, but he was close.
With the White Sox needing a win to avoid a sweep, Sale retired the first 19 batters he faced and threw a one-hit shutout in a 3-0 win over the Angels on a chilly night at U.S. Cellular Field. His potential and talent were on full display Sunday, a showcase of why the White Sox signed him to a five-year, $32.5 million extension in March.
"I didn’t wake up this morning and say, ‘I want to throw a perfect game or a no-hitter,’ " Sale said. "I come to the ballpark every day when I’m pitching and just want to keep my team in the game and win this game. We did."
Against an aggressive Angels lineup, Sale threw plenty of strikes and changed speeds well, pitching with extraordinary effectiveness. It's that combination of pitches that garnered Sale some Cy Young attention last summer and earned him a 3.05 ERA in his first year as a major league starter.
[WATCH: Sale reflects on his perfect game]
The slumping White Sox were in need of a win on Sunday, and Sale did more than deliver it. His stellar shutout was just the type of performance his team was looking for.
"I just think he likes the big games. I guarantee he knows everyone was watching on ESPN," catcher Tyler Flowers explained. "(Pitching coach Don Cooper) actually said something to me -- that you see who the true competitors are and the true winners are when they get in the big situations against a pretty good pitcher on the other side too. You see what a pitcher is really made of in those situations and I think he enjoys it."
"That’s a tough assignment," Ventura said. "He understands how it’s been going so you need a guy like that can go out and put together a game like that and give you a chance."
[MORE: Ventura has confidence in Sale]
It's an assignment, though, that Sale hasn't shied away from since moving to the rotation last spring. As he brought back memories of Philip Humber in 2012 and Mark Buehrle in 2009, he held the Angels at bay -- although, until the seventh, his performance elicited more comparisons to Harvey Haddix and Pedro Martinez than the two recent White Sox hurlers to throw perfect games.
Sale didn't lose his perfect game until the top of the seventh, when 2012 AL MVP runner-up Mike Trout rocketed a fastball up the middle for a single.
"If you are going to give it up, you might as well give it up to him," Sale said.
It was only after Sale lost his bid for perfection that the Sox offense woke up.
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But Alexei Ramirez's two-run single in the seventh lifted the White Sox ahead of the Angels, and Alex Rios followed it with a triple to bring the Sox advantage to 3-0. Before the inning, the White Sox went 1-8 with runners in scoring position -- and on that one hit, Casper Wells was easily thrown out at home plate.
"When a guy pitches like this, you don’t want to waste it," Ventura said.
Sale only needed 98 pitches to throw nine innings, the fourth-lowest total of any pitcher who's thrown a complete game in 2013. Josh Hamilton, who earned a massive contract in the offseason but has struggled initially this year, was part of Los Angeles' futile efforts and offered an assessment of what makes Sale so difficult to hit:
“You know what, when he’s on he’s unbelievable," Hamilton said. "He mixes his pitches well. He can throw the 89 (mph) little two-seamer sinker, arm-side run whatever … and then he can pump 94-95. So, it’s almost like you’ve got to give up one to kind of focus on something else."
When Sale's spotting both variations of his fastball and is able to play off it with his offspeed pitches, he has the ability to put together nights like this. He threw 35 of 51 fastballs for strikes, and got plenty of whiffs and weak contact on his changuep and slider.
The White Sox need more of these games to claw their way into the thick of the AL Central race. Avoiding sweeps is one thing, but having to fight for one win in a series isn't what'll get the White Sox there.
At some point, the White Sox are hoping to take off and put together an extended string of wins. If they get to that point, Sale could be the guy to finish off a sweep, not avoid one.
"I wouldn’t say that I want to put it on me. I try not to pack myself down with pressure," Sale said. "I try to go out there and be myself and pitch my game. However it shakes out, it shakes out.
"Whatever game we have, how many we’ve lost or won in a row, I try to go out there and be myself and pitch my game and hopefully it works out."