Yes, it's true that Chris Sale and Zack Greinke combined for merely eleven whiffs, a total each pitcher had surpassed on his own at least once this season. But there's more to a mound masterpiece than a long trail of strikeout victims. Sale kicked it up a notch when runners threatened to score. Greinke simply chose to deny scoring position as an option. When the game ended with the South Siders' 10th consecutive goose egg (apparently the goose remains the only animal capable of producing eggs of this shape), the box score showed tremendous numbers for the two starters.
In fact, both Sale and Greinke posted game scores of at least 80. The game score (explained below) developed by Bill James is a quick and easy way to measure the quality of a starting pitcher's performance. While not perfect, I think it gets the job done while assigning a quick one-number value for the sake of comparison. Digging through the box scores, it becomes apparent that the White Sox haven't participated in a pitchers' duel of this magnitude in some time.
The last time a Sox starter took part in a battle of 80 game scores was game one of an Aug. 18, 1990 doubleheader, when the "Little Bulldog" Greg Hibbard locked horns with Nolan Ryan in a strange "David vs. Goliath" matchup in Texas.
The crafty White Sox left-hander was on his way to a career-high 92 punchouts (in 211 innings). Of course the "Ryan Express" grunted and groaned (Goose Gossage, in his autobiography The Goose is Loose, commented that "when he let go of his fastball, he sounded like a woman giving birth. Or a beast in the jungle." Bill Melton told me virtually the same thing) his way to at least twice as many as Hibbard's career high in 18 different seasons, tripled it six times and, with his Major League record 383 strikeouts in 1973, quadrupled it.
And on this August 1990 day, the 43-year old legend posted a game score of 101. What would amount to Hibbard's career high of 81 went for naught.
August 17, 1990 (game 1); Rangers 1, White Sox 0
The previous "80 vs. 80" came improbably in 1987, a year of epic offensive explosion. Floyd Bannister and Mark Langston combined to allow just three hits on a Sunday afternoon at the Kingdome. The White Sox managed two solo homers (by Donnie Hill and Pat Keedy, of course) and the lone Mariner safety came in the bottom of the third courtesy of Harold Reynolds, who was promptly called out trying to stretch it into a double. No White Sox pitcher would surpass Bannister's 95 game score until Philip Humber's perfect game (96) against these same (yet very different) Mariners 25 years later.
September 13, 1987; White Sox 2, Mariners 0
There were two others since 1980, both White Sox losses and both on May 25:
May 25, 1986: Joel Davis (82) vs. Dennis Leonard (Royals, 82)
May 25, 1983: Britt Burns (80) vs. Bruce Hurst (Red Sox, 85)
And the previous two came in consecutive games in 1979:
Aug. 15, 1979: Ken Kravec 83 vs. Mike Flanagan (Orioles, 99)
Aug. 14, 1979: Rich Wortham 83 vs. Steve Stone (Orioles, 80)
And just for fun, the Sox' Steve Trout tossed an 83 the day before on Aug. 13, 1979 (but the Orioles' Scott McGregor turned in a shabby 32) making it three in a row by White Sox starters with exactly 83.
While other recent matchups were certainly ones to remember (for example Gavin Floyd vs. Ted Lilly in 2010, Johan Santana vs. Freddy Garcia in 2005, etc.), Sale vs. Greinke fulfilled my latest obscure statistical requirements, and hopefully the White Sox offense will prevent another one of these pitchers' duels from happening for quite some time.
Game score explained and other notes
Game Score: Begin with 50 points. Add one point for each out recorded. Add two points for each inning completed after the 4th inning. Add one point for each strikeout. Subtract two points for each hit allowed. Subtract four points for each earned run; two points for each unearned run. And subtract one point for each walk.
Only six times has a pitcher reached 100 since; Ryan again in a May 1, 1991 no-hitter, Kerry Wood on May 6, 1998 in his 20-strikeout game, Curt Schilling on April 7, 2002, Randy Johnson's May 18, 2004 perfect game, Brandon Morrow Aug. 8, 2010, and Matt Cain in his June 13, 2012 perfect game.
Offense across MLB stuck out like a sore thumb in 1987: (Below are MLB totals)