CHICAGO -- The nasty slider and pinpoint fastball command clearly are reasons the White Sox decided to sign Chris Sale to a long-term deal.
But an equally big factor, and it surfaced throughout Monday afternoon as Sale made his first Opening Day start, is the left-hander’s ability to combat emotion.
Although he spent a portion of the pregame festivities channeling his nervous energy, Sale found a way to harness his anxiety and deliver a gem as he led the White Sox to a 1-0 victory over the Kansas City Royals in front of 39,012 at U.S. Cellular Field.
[BOX SCORE: White Sox defeat Royals]
Sale (1-0) struck out seven in 7 2/3 scoreless innings, Tyler Flowers hit a solo home run and Addison Reed closed it out as the White Sox won their opener for the 11th time in 17 years.
“He did a good job of keeping his emotions in check,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “ He was excited. I think it was what you expect, in a lot of ways, him going out and being effective and getting out of jams and things like that. But he’s a special kid.”
Sale didn’t wait long to establish again just how special he is.
The left-hander, who is guaranteed $32.5 million over the next five seasons, found himself in a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the third inning with the middle of Kansas City’s lineup at the plate. If he felt even a hint of nervousness, Sale didn’t show it as he struck out 2012 All-Star Billy Butler on four pitches (three sliders and a changeup) and induced a 0-1 pop out off the bat of cleanup man Mike Moustakas. Only then did Sale let on how big was the task he had just completed.
“He was definitely fired up,” Flowers said. “Those are game-changing moments and at-bats. You hang something to Billy Butler right there and it could be 4-0. He’s a really good hitter. But (Sale) executed. He must have stayed within himself and did not make the situation bigger than it needed to be.”
Considering how Butler has fared against Sale in his career it would be easy to understand the Sox ace’s reaction. The Kansas City designated hitter entered the season 7-for-22 with three homers and seven RBIs against Sale. Even so, Sale prefers to face the opposing lineup’s big hitter if the game is on the line.
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“In those kind of situations you want to face that guy,” Sale said before he backtracked a bit. “Maybe not, but on the flip side, if I want to get a big out, I want it to be one of their better guys and it fell my way this time.”
Sale still had to navigate his way through 4 2/3 more innings and did so successfully by making sure he took deep breaths and didn’t overthink situations.
He got a double play ball after Jeff Francouer singled to start the fifth inning and another in the seventh off Francouer’s bat to end the frame. Gordon Beckham also delivered a big play when he robbed Lorenzo Cain of a key hit with a diving grab.
“He definitely saved the game right there,” Sale said.
Flowers -- who became the team’s first Opening Day catcher besides A.J. Pierzynski since 2004 -- gave Sale the opportunity to earn his first victory when he blasted a hanging 2-2 changeup into the stands in left for the game’s only run. Thornton then preserved a 1-0 lead with a three-pitch strikeout of Moustakas with runners on the corners to end the eighth.
The fact that his batterymate played a big role in the victory only added to Sale’s enjoyment.
“It was everything I thought it would be and more,” Sale said. “I thought I did a real good job of kind of collecting myself and not getting too amped up too early or too late and it ended up being a pretty good day.”