HOUSTON -- Boy, does that 2005 World Series title seem more distant than ever right about now.
Chris Sale exceeded dominant Friday night against an inexperienced lineup of Houston Astros hitters.
It didn’t matter.
As good as the ace was in the White Sox first visit to Minute Maid Park since they clinched the 2005 World Series, his teammates were equally bad.
Erik Bedard kept the White Sox bats under wraps and Alexei Ramirez made a pair of costly errors in a fifth-inning rally as the Astros stole the opener of a four-game series with a 2-1 victory in front of 20,496 at Minute Maid Park.
Lost in a defeat that dropped the White Sox to 28-36 -- eight under .500 matches their low for 2013 -- was a season-high 14 strikeouts from Sale, who didn’t allow an earned run over eight innings.
“Every time we don’t (play defense), we end up losing,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “(Hitting), some days you don’t have it. But we just have to execute better, that’s the bottom line.”
It’s hard to imagine things being worse for the White Sox than they are now.
A team that expected to compete for a postseason spot but has underachieved all season lowered the bar yet again against a Houston squad, which, though it has won eight of its last 15, entered with a 23-44 mark.
This is the kind of team the White Sox dominated in 2012, when it won 85 games and stayed in the race for the American League Central division until the final three days of the season.
Sale made it clear he was ready to carry on the tradition Friday when he struck out the side in the first inning. Using a fastball that touched 97 mph and sat at 95 to accompany a slider that had hitters swinging and missing often.
Sale also struck out two in the third, fifth, sixth and seventh innings.
But the effort, and a 1-0 lead, was all undone in a fifth inning that has become all-too-familiar around these parts.
Houston’s Ronny Cedeno led off with a slow chopper and reached when Ramirez couldn’t field it cleanly, though the play easily could have been ruled a base hit. Cedeno then moved into scoring position on Sale’s wild pitch.
After he walked No. 9 hitter Trevor Crowe, Sale got Brandon Barnes to hit a grounder to Ramirez, whose throw to second sailed into right field and allowed the tying run to score.
Jose Altuve then hit a grounder to third and Jeff Keppinger made a diving stop, but his throw to first wasn’t in time and the Astros took the lead good.
Through 66 games, the White Sox have committed 44 errors and are 11-21 in games they make an error.
Afterward, Ramirez sat in silence in front of his locker for several minutes, staring at the ground, hands on head. As is his personality, Sale refused to rip his teammates for their shoddy play even though the ball didn’t leave the infield.
“I know everyone is in here, fighting and grinding,” Sale said. “That’s the main goal. … (Ramirez) takes a lot of pride in what he does. I don’t think that’s a secret to anybody. He’s one of the best. Stuff like that happens. If he was a robot, and that happens, ‘Hey, something’s wrong.’ But you can’t expect perfection out of everybody all the time. I went over there and gave him a tap on the shoulder and told him, ‘Hey, you’re still the best. Stuff happens.’ ”
Ventura wasn’t nearly as diplomatic as Sale.
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Even though Ventura agreed none of the plays in the fifth was routine, he believes the White Sox gave away another game.
“Those are ones we need to make,” Ventura said. “They were kind of a little one way or the other, but that’s baseball. You’ve got to make it.”
Sale allowed five hits and two unearned runs with a walk as he threw a career-high 124 pitches.
Even though he entered with a 5.34 ERA, Bedard used a curveball and cut-fastball to keep the White Sox off-balance. The South Siders were without Alejandro De Aza (stomach illness) and had few chances against Bedard, who allowed three hits and three walks over six innings.
They grabbed a 1-0 lead in the fourth with Paul Konerko doubled, advanced on a passed ball and scored on Adam Dunn’s sacrifice fly.
But the White Sox finished 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position, stranding eight runners against Bedard and three Astros relievers.
Jose Cisnero, Travis Blackley and Jose Veras combined for three shutout innings to back Bedard.
Even though he has a 2.11 ERA and 25 strikeouts over his last three starts, Sale dropped to 0-3.
“You just don’t want to hang your head,” Sale said. “Obviously, it’s disappointing but you don’t want to. At the end of the day, the guys are grinding it out.”