Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2010
By Chuck Garfien
He stands 6-foot-5 and weighs one-hundred nothing. A man, who a very short time ago was just a kid, seemingly closer to Little League than the Major Leagues.
His name is Chris Sale, who just three months after being drafted by the White Sox, has become quite the bargain.
Before taking on the Tigers Wednesday night, Chris and I chatted by phone about his improbable ascension through the minor leagues, his immediate impact with the White Sox, how he retired the best hitter in the game on three pitches, and then some.
Chuck Garfien: Hey Chris. So I was doing some research for this interview, and came across the year you were born, and immediately felt very old. For those reading this, what year were you born?
Chris Sale: 1989.
Garfien: Which is the year I graduated from high school.
Sale: Oh wow.
Garfien: Thanks. So, do you consider music from the 1980s to be oldies?
Sale: Well, I consider my parents to be old. They were into music from the 50s and 60s.
Garfien: But you see thats the problem. Im almost old enough to be one of your parents. Dont worry. Ill get over it. But can you clear up a rumor for me? Is it true that Scott Linebrink is your grandfather?
Sale: (Laughs) No. But we gave him a hard time the other day. We call him Papa Bear, because whenever we walk out to the bullpen before the game, he makes sure were all together and gets us all corralled so we go out there as a group.
Garfien: And he does kind of look like Papa Bear, too.
Sale: No comment on that.
Garfien: I want to go back to when you started playing baseball. When did you realize that you could throw the ball harder than everybody else your age?
Sale: Honestly, I didnt even start throwing too hard until I got to college. As a senior in high school I was throwing about 84-89. Every once in a while Id hit 90. But it wasnt until probably the fall of my sophomore year that I started throwing into the low 90s and every once in a while there would be a 94 or 95.
Garfien: So what happened? What changed for you that allowed you to throw harder than you had before?
Sale: Probably a combination of everything. Working out everyday, getting my arm stronger by throwing everyday, and eating better, getting some better food in my body.
Garfien: But looking at you, it appears that you dont eat anything!
Sale: Yeah, I get that a lot. Fans in the stands tell me that I need to eat more. Theyre already saying, Do they feed you in Chicago?
Garfien: Is it apart of your DNA to be really thin? I can relate to that. I was an anemic twig up until I was about 22 years old.
Sale: Oh yeah. My grandfathers nickname is Streamline because he was a swimmer and he looked like a long skinny line swimming in the water. People to this day still call him that. There are people who dont even know his real name. They just call him Streamline. My dad had a size 28 or 30 waist when he got married. Everyone in my family was really skinny when they were growing up, so Im not surprised.
Garfien: When the White Sox drafted you, how realistic was it that you could get to the majors this quickly?
Sale: I didnt really think about it too much. When I signed early on, they told me I would have the opportunity to move up quickly. I was looking forward to playing and getting in the innings, and to come back next spring with a chance to move up. I was pitching well, and then I got the call in August that I was coming up with the team, and it was unbelievable. A dream come true. Imagine sitting back six or seven months ago, and suddenly being in this position. Its the greatest thing thats happened to me as far as baseball.
Garfien: So you pitch 10 innings in the minor leagues, you come up here, you obviously have confidence in your ability, but was there a part of you that was saying, Okay, can I really do this so quickly in my career?
Sale: Oh yeah. I certainly didnt start acting like I was calm, cool, and collected about it. I was excited, but at the same time I was really nervous. I was facing college hitters, then I was facing minor league guys, and now Im pitching against guys who I watched on TV growing up, and played on their teams in video games just because they hit the ball so far. I was definitely a little nervous coming up, but things have worked out well, and Im getting more comfortable on the mound everytime.
Garfien: Ozzie Guillen says that what he likes about you is that you have guts. Have you been like that with everything in life, or does it just manifest itself when youre on the pitching mound?
Sale: When I take the mound, I just like to be intense. I was just talking about it with Linebrink yesterday, to just go out there and be focused on what Im doing and not taking off a pitch. Every pitch being 100 percent confident, and be locked in for every single pitch.
Garfien: A couple weeks ago against the Twins, you struck out Joe Mauer on three straight sliders. What was your mind-set there? Take me back to that moment. What was going on in your head, facing Mauer, one of the best hitters in the game, and youre saying, Im going to get him out with three straight sliders."
Sale: A.J. Pierzynski was the one calling the pitches. Obviously I had never faced Mauer. I just didnt want him to get a chance to open up the game, so we were just being careful with him. It ended up being a good situation for us. After I threw the first one, I just wanted to get it in there for a strike. The second one, I wanted to make him chase it a little bit. And the third one, A.J. called for a third slider in a row, and I was like, Alright, whatever. Here it goes. And I just wanted to throw it towards the strike zone and let it break down, and it ended up working out well.
Garfien: Youre a major league pitcher now, but youre also a human being. When you walked off the mound after doing that, was there a part of you that said, Did I just do that?
Sale: Oh yeah. Theres a part of me still saying that.
Garfien: Your first major league win came on Monday against the Tigers. You threw 2 23 scoreless, hitless innings in relief. What was that feeling like for you, and was there a beer shower involved?
Sale: Yes, there was definitely a beer shower. It was awesome being able to go out there and get that first win. Its unbelievable.
Garfien: Are you liking being a reliever? Or is starting pitching you really want to do?
Sale: It really doesnt matter to me. I just want to have the opportunity to pitch. Whatever they want to do. If they end up changing their mind and say, We want to keep you in the pen, Ill be fine with that. If they tell me in the spring that they want me to come back and be a starter, thats fine too. Whatever they think. Thats what Im going to do.
Garfien: And finally, is there a funny story or moment thats happened in your major league career thats going to stay with you for a very long time. It could be on the field, off the field, that you feel like sharing.
Sale: This whole experience! Are you kidding me? Its been surreal. Obviously, being drafted in the first round. It was unbelievable. Signing early, and playing, and being in a pennant race at 21-years-old, and moving through the system so quick, I couldnt have asked for anything better. I still come to the park everyday and its just like, Wow, this is awesome. This is what Ive worked for my whole life, to get this opportunity, and Im just trying to make the best of it.
Garfien: Well, you certainly have. Good luck tonight.