Whenever Chris Sale pitches the White Sox think they have a pretty good chance to win.
But this season the team’s level of execution is significantly better.
Sale had just enough to get through a few trying times on Monday night and his offense and defense chipped in too in a 3-1 White Sox victory over the Kansas City Royals at U.S. Cellular Field.
Sale pitched seven strong innings and took advantage of early run support against Royals starter Jeremy Guthrie as the White Sox improved to 3-1 on the homestand. The White Sox are 10-5 when Sale pitches this season after they went 14-16 in 2013.
“All the good teams have a legitimate ace and not only are they good, but once every five days you have a really good chance to win and that’s the kind of pitcher he is,” said White Sox designated hitter Adam Dunn, who played a part in all three runs scored. “We feel like if we can get Chris some early runs we’re going to like our chances.”
These kinds of efforts rarely seemed to land on the days when Sale threw in 2013.
Despite a 3.07 ERA, he finished with an 11-14 mark.
There was the day in Houston last June when Sale struck out 14 but allowed a pair of unearned runs and lost 2-1. Earlier that month, Sale allowed a run over six innings in Oakland and lost by two.
Over seven starts from June 2-July 6, Sale went 0-6 even though he had a 3.10 ERA as the White Sox scored 13 runs over the seven starts.
So when Dunn singled in two runs off Guthrie with the bases loaded and no outs in the first inning Sale had to feel pretty good. That the White Sox added another run in the sixth inning on a Gordon Beckham sacrifice fly to push their advantage to two again had to feel even better.
But that wasn’t all Sale had to be thankful for.
Leading 2-1 in the fourth inning, Alcides Escobar followed Danny Valencia’s RBI single with a double to left field. Valencia tried to score from first but was thrown out after a perfect relay from Alejandro De Aza to Alexei Ramirez to catcher Tyler Flowers.
“That’s huge,” Sale said. “That’s a game-changer. Game-saver. That just gives us momentum. The two runs right out of the gate, that’s always nice getting those. Then something like that happens where you get two great throws and save a run. It was awesome.”
Sale and his bullpen did the rest.
He had great fastball life but was hardly at his sharpest. Still, it didn’t stop him from beating a team that won seven of 13 previous decisions against Sale.
Sale’s biggest challenge came in the sixth inning with the White Sox holding a one-run lead.
With two on and one out, Sale struck out Valencia and Escobar to maintain a 2-1 lead. White Sox manager Robin Ventura said he visited the mound after Sale walked Billy Butler to put the go-ahead run aboard with one out just to give him a chance to regroup.
“He had to work hard to get through it,” Ventura said. “He just finds a way. He’s a great pitcher, but the competitive part of him gets him through when he might not have his best stuff.”
The three-time All-Star’s followed that up with a quick frame in the seventh as he needed only eight pitches to retire the side in order, including leadoff hitter Lorenzo Cain with an inning-ending strikeout.
Following a five-day layoff, Sale limited the Royals a run and seven hits with a walk and a hit batter. He struck out eight.
Ronald Belisario delivered a perfect eighth inning and Jacob Petricka followed with a scoreless ninth to earn his fourth save.
“The desire to win is ubiquitous in this clubhouse and it’s fun to come here and play every day,” Sale said.