Chris Sale outpitched leading American League Cy Young candidate Max Scherzer on Monday night.
Had the White Sox been better this season, Sale conceivably could be ahead of the field in the race to be named AL’s top pitcher.
The two-time All-Star continued an outstanding season with eight sharp innings against the Miguel Cabrera-less Tigers as the White Sox won 5-1 at U.S. Cellular Field.
Sale improved to 11-12 as he struck out eight against Detroit, which lost Cabrera and manager Jim Leyland to ejections in the top of the first inning.
“He’s an ace,” White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko said. “He’s a tough kid. He wants to be great. He doesn’t want to be just good. He’s got the stuff to do it, but there’s a lot of guys out there with great stuff that don’t get it done. So there’s more to it. Mentally he’s a strong kid and he just wants to be the best. If we had scored more runs for him this year he might have been.”
Sale is at the top or near it along with Scherzer and Seattle Mariners pitcher Felix Hernandez in most of the major pitching categories.
But one area where he has struggled is totally out of Sale’s control: run support.
Even with a deluge of runs scored behind him of late -- the Sox have scored 30 in his last six starts -- Sale entered with the fourth-lowest run support in the majors.
The measly offering by his teammates has led to a stretch where he won once in 11 starts despite a 3.23 ERA and 94 strikeouts in 78 innings.
But Sale has refused to let his team’s poor play slow him down as evidenced by Monday’s outing. Although he was aided by Cabrera’s ejection three pitches into a first-inning at-bat Sale didn’t need much help.
He retired nine of the first 10 batters he faced and never allowed more than one batter to reach base in any inning. His third inning strikeout of Austin Jackson was Sale’s 200th of the season.
“This is as well as I have seen him pitch this year as far as feeling at ease, throwing all of his pitches at any time,” manager Robin Ventura said. “You can see his mannerisms on the mound too. He doesn’t let his emotions get in the way.”
Over his last seven starts, Sale is 5-1 with a 2.85 ERA in 53 2/3 innings.
Monday’s effort, when he allowed a run, four hits and a walk, was far better than Scherzer, who allowed five runs (four earned) over five innings.
But ask Sale about any Cy Young talk and he turns to clichés.
“Nah,” Sale said. “For me it’s one day at a time, one game at a time. Whatever that stuff happens to be, it is. Not try to put too much emphasis on it. Just go out there and do everything I can to win that game.”
Sale resorted to the same general tone earlier this season whenever the White Sox failed to score him enough runs. He always praised the effort of his teammates even when they came up short time and time again.
Konerko made sure that wasn’t the case this time with a two-out, two-strike, two-run single in the first inning off Scherzer to put the White Sox ahead 2-0.
The White Sox tacked on three more runs in the fourth inning as Dayan Viciedo and Josh Phegley each singled in runs. Scherzer’s throwing error on Phegley’s infield hit allowed another run to score.
While Sale likely won’t win the Cy Young, he has won over his teammates, Konerko said.
“He’s a lot like (Mark) Buehrle was here,” Konerko said. “He’s all about the team and never once did he ever -- he has not complained and has been behind his teammates the whole way. Not a bad word he’ll say about anybody so that’s how you get respect from your teammates and he has earned that.”