Chris Sale strikes out 14 Astros as White Sox get a win

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Chris Sale strikes out 14 Astros as White Sox get a win

The Houston Astros were no match for Chris Sale on Monday night.

Even the rain didn’t have a chance.

The White Sox ace worked around rain delays of 25 and 38 minutes to strike out 14 batters en route to a 3-1 victory in front of 17,352 at U.S. Cellular Field.

After he kept loose throwing in the batting cage before and during the game, Sale established a new White Sox record with his fourth straight double-digit strikeout performance. The three-time All Star limited the Astros to five hits over eight innings of one-run ball and improved to 6-2 as Avisail Garcia homered for the third time in four games.

“(Sale) was fantastic,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “He’s really been on a roll, and some of the numbers he’s starting to rack up are impressive, especially how long this organization has been here.

“Even getting up there in the last inning, going out there, there’s just a different mentality with him when it gets late in the game now.”

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With two outs in the eighth inning and the White Sox ahead by two, Ventura briefly visit Sale on the mound. Last year’s American League batting champ Jose Altuve was up with a man on second, and Sale had already thrown 115 pitches. Four pitches later, Sale whiffed Altuve on an 83-mph slider to end the inning — the first time he’d struck out the side.

In his last four starts, Sale has 49 strikeouts and four walks in 30 2/3 innings. He has allowed five runs (four earned) and 17 hits and won three of four.

But to get that far, Sale worked around a 25-minute rain delay prior to the start of the game and a 38-minute stoppage in the bottom of the third. He said he threw 30 pitches total in the cage between the two postponements.

“I can see how it could be a distraction, but you just try to do your best to stay there and stay fresh,” Sale said. “Keep it loose and try to keep your arm loose.

“Things happen. You can't control the weather or anything like that. Play the cards you're dealt, really.”

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Leading 1-0, Sale was dealt a tough hand in the fourth inning on a series of well-placed Astros hits.

But he pitched out of it anyway.

Jonathan Villar singled and advanced to third on Altuve’s single. Altuve also moved into scoring position as Melky Cabrera slipped in left field, allowing the speedy second baseman to race to second base. But Sale struck out Evan Gattis with a 98-mph fastball and Chris Carter with a 99-mph heater. He nearly escaped the jam unscathed, but Carlos Correa beat out an infield single — though it took another delay as umpires needed a 50-second replay review to determine the rookie was safe at first, which allowed Houston's only run to score. Sale got Marwin Gonzalez to ground out to end the threat and took over, retiring 13 of the last 14 batters he faced, including eight strikeouts.

“Even with the odd (rain delay) in the third, he doesn’t check out,” Ventura said. “He really mentally stayed in it, and it’s hard to do that, especially you get a couple of rain delays like that. He found a way to stay right in the mentality and the moment of it and not really shy away from wanting to go back out there.”

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The White Sox did just enough against Astros rookie Lance McCullers.

Cabrera gave them a 1-0 lead in the second inning with an RBI single, his first since the first game of the May 28 doubleheader.

After Houston had tied it, Abreu singled and advanced to second on Adam LaRoche’s fly out, and Garcia homered to right to give the White Sox a 3-1 lead. Sale cited Garcia’s alert nature after the rain delay as a huge factor in what he determined to be, “the most important play of the game.”

“We’re sitting in here doing all this stuff, going through the weather delay and all that,” Sale said. “It’s huge for him to come and do that.”

Miguel Gonzalez throws six perfect innings as White Sox take series against Tigers

Miguel Gonzalez throws six perfect innings as White Sox take series against Tigers

For six innings Sunday, Miguel Gonzalez was perfect.

The White Sox right-hander put the baseball world on perfect-game alert and conjured memories of Mark Buehrle and Philip Humber with his dazzling work through six innings. Gonzalez lost his bids for a perfect game, no hitter and shutout in the span of three batters to lead off the seventh inning, but that didn’t take away much from how good he was in a 7-3 win for the South Siders at Guaranteed Rate Field.

“He was dominant,” shortstop Tim Anderson said, providing an accurate if brief summation of the day’s proceedings.

Gonzalez, who entered with a 3-5 record and a 4.55 ERA in nine previous starts this season, set down the first 18 hitters he faced in order, with the visiting Detroit Tigers rarely even coming close to reaching base. That streak of 18 straight hitters retired to start the game was the longest by a White Sox starter since Chris Sale sat down the first 19 he faced back in May 2013.

Of course, whenever a performance nears no-hitter territory, players know it and stay away from the pitcher in the dugout, afraid of jinxing things. And the White Sox weren’t immune to that baseball tradition on Sunday.

“It was getting quiet,” Gonzalez said. “I was just trying to do my thing. Just go out there and make pitches, let them make the plays and that’s how things went.”

The Tigers — who trailed big after the White Sox gave Gonzalez a 7-0 lead — finally broke through to start the seventh. Austin Romine reached on an infield single, Alex Avila singled through the right side of the infield, and Miguel Cabrera dumped an RBI base hit into right field.

Detroit added two more runs on three extra-base hits in the eighth, but Gonzalez still finished with a great line, yielding just three runs on six hits in 7.2 innings of work.

Gonzalez’s gem snapped a streak of rough outings that started, coincidentally enough, against this Tigers team, when he was crushed for seven runs on 14 hits in an April 30 loss in Detroit. Entering Sunday’s game, Gonzalez was a nasty 0-5 with a 6.99 ERA in his previous five starts. He hadn’t made it out of the sixth inning in any of his previous three starts.

“I started off really good. I was struggling for a couple outings, and all you can do is keep working hard and things are going to happen,” Gonzalez said. “I think if you work hard in between your starts you have a pretty good chance of getting back on track and that’s how I felt today.”

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That seventh-inning blip by the Tigers ended the day’s only drama, as the White Sox offense put the result of the game out of question earlier, tagging opposing starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann for seven runs in his five innings of work.

Zimmermann entered the day struggling on the 2017 campaign, and that didn’t change Sunday. Willy Garcia tripled in Omar Narvaez for the game’s first run in the third and scored on the same play thanks to a throwing error. Two hitters later, Melky Cabrera hit a solo home run to make it 3-0.

Matt Davidson led off the bottom of the fourth with his 10th home run of the season, and Narvaez drove in Yolmer Sanchez to make it 5-0. Todd Frazier tacked on two more in the fifth with a two-run shot that also scored Jose Abreu.

“As an offense, we’re trying to give that (big cushion) every night. That’d be nice,” Davidson said. “And it really relaxes them. And you can see what happens when they’ve got a lead and you let them do their thing.”

The White Sox took three of four from the Tigers in this weekend series that featured a doubleheader split Saturday. It’s a positive start to this home stand — which continues with a three-game series against the Boston Red Sox — after going 3-7 on a recent 10-game road trip.

“I'm very happy with it, but again I'm not surprised by it, simply because I think they come out every single day to try to play good baseball and do what they need to help each other out and win ballgames,” manager Rick Renteria said. “It's just their character, the way they're put together. They keep battling.”

Jose Abreu relishing opportunity to help mentor Luis Robert, White Sox newest Cuban addition

Jose Abreu relishing opportunity to help mentor Luis Robert, White Sox newest Cuban addition

Call it the White Sox latest Cuban connection.

When news came out of the team pursuing 19-year-old Cuban outfielder Luis Robert, it was pretty easy to guess that Jose Abreu, the franchise’s previous big-time, free-agent signing from Cuba, would be involved.

But not only was Abreu involved in the White Sox courting of Robert, sending a personalized message as part of the team’s video pitch, he’s been a willing participant. And now that Robert is officially signed after Saturday’s much-hyped introduction, Abreu is ready to take on a mentorship role, much like he has with another one of the organization’s Cuban prospects, Yoan Moncada.

In the lead up to Saturday’s press conference, it was Abreu touring Robert around Guaranteed Rate Field, chatting with him in the dugout and taking pictures on the infield.

“I was very excited to have him here, and I’m very happy right now because he’s signing with the team,” Abreu said through a translator ahead of Sunday’s series finale with the visiting Detroit Tigers. “He’s a very good player. I just told him that he has to keep working hard and keep doing the things to get here as soon as he can. He’s a nice guy.

“I’m excited to have that opportunity (to be a mentor). That’s something that I like to do. I like to advise the guys and tell them what to do for their best like I am doing right now with Moncada. I’m just waiting for that opportunity to happen with (Robert).”

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While Abreu arrived on the South Side an older, more experienced player who was ready for the big leagues, Robert’s journey to the majors will be a much different, much longer one. Abreu recognizes that and talked about how tough the transition will be. He also has confidence Robert, who has received glowing scouting reports comparing him to perennial All Stars, can succeed.

“It’s not an easy thing to do to come here straight to play in the majors because this is a very high level and a tough one to play,” Abreu said. “I think the best for him is the decision that he’s making for him, to have some games in the minors and let him develop there. He’s had a long time without playing baseball. Baseball in Cuba is good, but it’s not as good as baseball here in the U.S. and you have to adjust. I think that process for him is going to be perfect in the minors.”

Saturday, Robert talked about the White Sox tradition of Cuban players, mentioning how it helped motivate him to sign with the team. Abreu has been one of the franchise’s most successful Cuban players, a list that includes the legendary Minnie Minoso as well as more recent players like Alexei Ramirez and Dayan Viciedo and Moncada in the minor leagues.

While that tradition might not be the entire or even main reason Robert is now a part of the organization, general manager Rick Hahn talked about how it’s created an environment that will help Robert develop. Banners featuring Minoso, Abreu, Ramirez and Moncada flanked the table where Robert signed his contract.

Abreu said it’s a tradition he’s very proud to be a part of.

“That made me feel happy and proud. Not just for this organization that I’m a part of, but also for my heritage because I know that this is a very good organization and they are trying to take care of the Cuban players,” Abreu said. “I also feel a huge respect for Minnie Minoso because he was the first one who opened this door here with the White Sox.”

Through his mentoring, Abreu could keep that tradition going into the future. Robert and Moncada are huge pieces of the White Sox rebuilding puzzle, and Abreu is helping put those pieces together for the White Sox.