Jackson plays punch out; Sox win home opener

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Jackson plays punch out; Sox win home opener

Thursday, April 7, 2011
Posted: 3:43 p.m. Updated: 5:45 p.m.

By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com

CHICAGO After Brent Lillibridge gloved a warning-track fly ball by potential tying run Johnny Damon to end the eighth, Edwin Jacksons emphatic fist-pump on the mound put the finishing touches on an Opening Day gem, a game so dominant its immediately mentioned in the same breath as his 149-pitch no-hitter vs. these same Tampa Rays a summer ago.

Baseball is a game of inches, one pitch can ruin a whole game, Jackson said. When Damon hit that ball, initially I did think it was gone. It was a great feeling to see Lillibridge at the fence catching it for a last out. It was definitely exciting. Off the bat, I thought it was a home run.

Jackson punched out a career-high 13 batterswhich set a White Sox home opener recordin a 5-1 trampling of Tampa, which hasnt only failed to lead in a single game this season but fell to 0-6 for the first time in its history. Juan Pierre paced the Pale Hose with three hits, while Alex Rios, Paul Konerko, Lillibridge and Alexei Ramirez chipped in two apiece.

Sox Notes: Dunn still healing, feels feisty

The White Sox jumped ahead with three more early runs, two in the first off a two-run double misplayed by left fielder Sam Fuld, one in the third when Konerko tapped home Rios, who had doubled again and now stands at 7-11 career vs. Rays starter David Price.

Weve got a lot of dangerous hitters in our lineup, so its not the end of the world if you dont get the job done, said Konerko, who is hitting .360 on the season and set a White Sox record by driving home at least one run home in each of the first six games of the season.

But the story of the day was Jackson and an outing that Rays manager Joe Maddon characterized as more skillfully pitched than Jacksons no-hitter in 2010, tweeting after the game that Edwin had better command today then in his no-hitter against us last year. We weren't pressinghe was that good.

Jackson, even keel in that hell aw-shuck his way through good and bad both, could see his former managers point.

I mean, definitely this game is up there, Jackson said. Any time Im able to go out and get in an early rhythm, get outs quick and attack the strike zone, I like my odds. I have trouble in games when I get behind in the counts and have to throw strikes. There werent too many times where I had to do that today and when I did, I was able to make a quality pitch for an out.

He threw greateverything was working today, catcher A.J. Pierzynski said. He had all pitches going. He threw strikesthats the main thing. If he gets ahead against anyone, hes tough. I remember facing him. You didnt want him to get ahead of you because then it was, Oh boy, I got to try to hit this slider. Its as good as any slider there is. He continually got ahead of guys Once we got the lead, he got better and better as we went.

Jackson is characterized as a power pitcher but has long eschewed talk of him being all brawn and no savvy. Case in point: The fireballer doesnt count Ks.

I never really count the strikeouts, Jackson said. I really didnt know how many I had. I knew I had a lot. If you would have asked me an exact number, I probably wouldnt have been close. My main objective is get outs any way I can, either putting the ball in play or strikeouts.

Thats a blessing when youre a strikeout pitcher, White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said. His breaking pitches today were outstanding. He got into breaking ball counts, threw them and made those guys swing.

Pre-Velo

The fluke of schedule that had Jackson starting the home debut on Thursday, was one that the pitcher was eager to capitalize on.

Theres no jitters or anything right now, Jackson told CSNChicago.com on Wednesday. Its Opening Day at U.S. Cellular. Im sure it could be something exciting to see the crowds reaction. It would be even better to go out there and cap it off with a win.

Jackson was dominant in his home debut, setting a new career K mark (13) and retiring 20 of 21 batters to start the game (everyone except Fuld, who led off the game with a single) and allowing just four hits to the defending A.L. East champion Tampa Rays.

Jackson has proven a popular pitcher for the Pale Hose, but thats something the young righthander knows can turn at any time.

Ill only stay that way if I have a good game, Jackson laughed. Its always good if you can go out and have somewhat of a good day Opening Day, anywhere, regardless of whether its Chicago or anywhere else you play. You want to give the fans something positive to look forward to all season.

Thats just what Jackson has done, with an opener for the ages.

Its like youre opening the season all over again, Jackson said of his season opening honor. National anthem, lineups called outits like a brand-new Opening Day.

It would be easy to say that Jackson was a brand-new pitcher with his excellent work on Thursday, but as the strongest starter from the second half of 2010, hes just keeping on.

Asked about wanting to earn an A for his work on Opening Day, likening the pomp and circumstance to the first day of school, Jackson laughed in assertion.

Today, chalk Velo up for an A-plus.

Slip sliding

Perhaps the most devastating out pitch any White Sox starter has in his arsenal, with the possible exception of Mark Buehrles changeup, is Jacksons slider, which was as sharp as its ever been during Thursdays win, accounting for 12 of Velos 13 strikeouts.

I had a lot of strikeouts with the sliders, he said. I was able to mix it up a little bit in the count, keep them off-balanceyou know, put them away when I had chances to.

Interestingly, neither Jackson nor Pierzynski had any notion that the hurler would be so untouchable today.

Thats why they call it warming upthats exactly what it is, Jackson said by way of explaining why. I had some of my best games after some of my worst bullpens. I tried to go in and find a rhythm in the pen and bring it out to the game. Sometimes its not that easy. The main thing in the bullpen is get warm and ready for the first inning.

A guy can be pitching really well warming up and you still dont know how a hitter is going to react to his stuff, Pierzynski said. But the thing about Edwin is, when hes on, he can be unhittable.

Cool runnings

Jackson was pumped up before the home opener, so much so that he was walking through the White Sox dugout in short sleeves, seemingly impervious to the near-freezing temperatures.

I really wasnt cold, but I came out to see how cold it was and get used to the temperature. It really wasnt as bad as I thought.

With a gametime temp of 39 degrees and Jackson hailing from Georgia, Jackson proved he had some grit, throwing in the game with bare arms up to his elbows.

Brett Ballantini is CSNChicago.coms White Sox Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnik on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Sox information.

Preview: White Sox start series at Twins tonight on CSN

Preview: White Sox start series at Twins tonight on CSN

 

The White Sox take on the Twins on Friday, and you can catch all the action on Comcast SportsNet. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on White Sox Postgame Live.

Today’s starting pitching matchup: Jose Quintana (8-8, 2.97 ERA) vs. Ricky Nolasco (4-8, 5.40 ERA)

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Back with White Sox, Chris Sale ready to move on from 'fiasco'

Back with White Sox, Chris Sale ready to move on from 'fiasco'

Even though he felt isolated and experienced a five-day stretch he called “a fiasco,” Chris Sale was right where he wants to be Thursday, surrounded by White Sox teammates.

Shortly after a 3-1 loss to the Cubs, the pitcher echoed the sentiments of White Sox management in a 10-minute media session when he suggested he’d like to move on from a five-game suspension for insubordination and destruction of team property.

With the trade deadline only four days away, Sale wants to stay with the White Sox and hopes the current roster gets an opportunity to win. He also thought an incident in which he destroyed promotional throwback jerseys had been blown out of proportion.

While he didn’t apologize for his actions, the left-hander said he regretted letting down his teammates and fans who attended Saturday’s game. Sale, whose record fell to 14-4 after he allowed two runs in six innings, said he plans to address White Sox players and coaches soon and intends to let them know his level of appreciation.

“I want to let them know where my head is at, where my heart is at,” Sale said. “And let them know how much I appreciate them.

“I felt like I was out on an island, really. 7 o’clock rolls around and I usually know what’s going on. Sitting at the house sucks.

“I regret not being there for my guys. I’m a pitcher. I’m called upon every fifth day and when I can’t go out there for my guys and the fans, it gets to me.”

Similar to March when he pitched a day after ripping executive vice president Kenny Williams, Sale said his focus is back on the field. He declined to answer what he didn’t like about the throwback jerseys, calling it “counterproductive.” Even though the White Sox are on the outside looking in, Sale is hopeful he and his teammates can rally and make a strong postseason push over the final 60 games.

“I think everyone is making just a little bit bigger deal of this then it really is,” Sale said. “We are here to win games and from this point forward, I think that’s our main focus. We are going to come in every day and do our jobs and try to win ballgames, that’s at the forefront.

“I don’t like people filling in for me. I love what I do. I love pitching. I love competing. I love the guys that I’m surrounded by.”

“When I let them down, it hurts me more than it hurts them.”

Three days after he suggested manager Robin Ventura didn’t properly support him, Sale declined to discuss their future relationship and again diverted the conversation back to the field. When asked what was the biggest lesson he took from the ordeal, Sale said he wasn’t quite sure.

“I know you guys are trying to get in there and you guys have to write stories and stuff,” Sale said. “I understand. But they said their side. I said my side. I’m ready to talk about baseball and playing baseball and getting back to winning and getting the Chicago White Sox into the postseason. That’s my goal. That’s my focus. Anything else, that’s for you guys.”

While he admits that his competitive side may have fed into Saturday’s events, he also knows abandoning it would hurt him on the field. Sale said he was inundated by texts and calls from teammates past and present during his absence. That only strengthened his desire to win with the current group, Sale said.

“There’s no doubt my emotions have got me to this point,” he said. “I wouldn’t be the same person without them but stuff happens. Move on. We have an unbelievable group of guys in that clubhouse. We’ll just push forward.

“I’m here to win. I love exactly where I’m at. I have an unbelievable group of guys in that clubhouse. We’re pulling for each other, they are pulling for me and vice versa, through and through. I’d like to stay with this group of guys and make a push for the playoffs because I love those guys.”

White Sox find normalcy in Chris Sale's return from suspension

White Sox find normalcy in Chris Sale's return from suspension

The word of the day Thursday around the cramped confines of the visitor’s clubhouse at Wrigley Field was normal, as in getting things back to it with ace left-hander Chris Sale taking the mound after serving a five-game suspension for “insubordination and destruction of team property.”

A completely abnormal story — Sale cut up the 1976 throwback uniforms he didn’t want to wear last Saturday and was sent home for his actions — gave way to a relatively routine evening. Sale allowed two runs on six hits with three walks and four strikeouts over six innings, though the White Sox lineup was shut down by John Lackey and the Cubs’ new three-headed bullpen monster in a 3-1 Crosstown loss.

“Things were pretty normal,” manager Robin Ventura said. “Guys got here, not a different clubhouse or anything like that. I think everything went fairly normal as far as him going out there and pitching and it was about baseball.”

First baseman Jose Abreu said things felt like an ordinary Sale start, even though the American League’s All-Star starting pitcher hadn’t pitched since July 18. He didn’t have his best stuff and wasn’t his sharpest, either — those three walks were his highest total in over two months — as he wasn’t able to consistently paint the corners with his explosive arsenal of pitches.

But, as usual, Sale worked quickly and kept his team in the game against one of baseball’s best offenses.

“He pitched a very good game,” Abreu said through a translator.

The Cuban first baseman added: “I think that we already moved on.”

Catcher Dioner Navarro agreed.

“He gave us a great outing, we just weren’t able to score any runs for him,” Navarro said.

Before the game, third baseman Todd Frazier said he and his teammates rallied around Sale and hoped a solid outing from the 27-year-old left-hander would put the bizarre incident squarely in the rearview mirror. 

“Some mistakes are bigger than others but you gotta understand that we’re all not perfect,” Frazier said. “Things do happen in this game, different things that you think (you’ve) never seen before, and then it happens. It’s just one of those things, hopefully it goes away quick with the way he pitches."

Sale said he didn’t discuss the incident or his suspension with his teammates before the game to keep things as normal as possible. After he showed up a little after 4:40 p.m., he received hugs and handshakes from teammates welcoming him back following his five-day exile.

But after that, Navarro said things were business as usual. He and Sale went through the gameplan and got ready to face the Cubs' powerful lineup instead of dwelling on what happened last Saturday. Eventually, Sale will talk to his coaches and teammates on a personal level to “let them know where my head is at, where my heart is at, and let them know how much I appreciate them.”

With the White Sox playoff hopes flickering as the trade deadline approaches, though, Sale’s teammates are eager to keep the focus on trying to dig themselves out of a substantial, two-games-under-.500 hole.

“Everything’s in the past,” Navarro said. “He did a great job. Quality start, nothing else you can ask.”