Thursday night's White Sox-Red Sox rubber match had the makings of a historic night, with Chris Sale and Jon Lester each taking no-hitters into the sixth inning (Lester's was a perfect game). While both pitchers ultimately lost their bids at history, and the White Sox ultimately lost the game, 3-1, as well as the series, it didn't do much to damper the confidence in the home clubhouse.
"This isn’t something we should hang our heads about," Sale said. "We played three great games. We just got outlucked."
That's one way to look at it, with Boston winning a 14-inning affair Wednesday thanks to a struggling bullpen running out of pitchers and needing utility infielder Leury Garcia to pitch in relief.
But for the sixth time in eight defeats this season, the White Sox bullpen was saddled with the loss — with Ronald Belisario taking the lump Thursday. Belisario allowed three straight hits, including the go-ahead double to Boston's David Ross, in the top of the ninth and the Red Sox tacked on an insurance run on a Jonathan Herrerra bunt off Scott Downs later in the frame.
"When you don’t score, that’s usually what happens," Ventura said. "I think tonight, Lester was the reason. We had chances and we just didn’t push them in. In the end, if you’re not going to score with that many chances, things like that happen."
The White Sox offense couldn't get going against Lester, who adeptly worked both sides of the plate in a masterful eight-inning performance. He didn't give up his first hit until Tyler Flowers singled with one out in the sixth, and then stranded the go-ahead run at third in the bottom of the eighth.
Sale nearly matched Lester pitch-for-pitch, though. The White Sox ace retired 17 of the first 19 batters he faced, only walking Ross in the second and hitting Xander Bogaerts in the fourth. Nine of those 17 outs were strikeouts, and the only run he allowed came when Bogaerts ripped a 1-0 fastball deep into the left field bleachers to end his no-hit bid with one out in the sixth.
Sale finished the game with a career-high 127 pitches, though he and manager Robin Ventura didn't sound concerned about the elevated pitch total. In seven innings, Sale allowed just one hit and struck out 10.
Plenty's been made about the energy the White Sox have played with this season, but Thursday's game brought it about in a different form: A world-class pitcher's duel.
"It’s hard to miss when you look up there and there’s nothing but zeroes," Sale said. "It’s kind of who is going to crack first. I think I lost that one by about 490 feet. But at the same time, all the credit to (Lester)."
Sale was aided in the first inning by a spectacular catch by center fielder Adam Eaton, who took away a home run from Red Sox slugger David Ortiz in sparkling fashion. Both sides played crisp defense, and the pace of the game was a welcome change from the frigid slogs that were Tuesday and Wednesday's games.
A sense of pride emanated from the White Sox clubhouse after the game — sure, there was disappointment about the loss, but players liked the way they competed with the defending World Series champs this week. Put in the spectrum of last year's dismal season, and it's been an encouraging start to the 2014 season for the White Sox.
"I love the fight in this team," Eaton said. "We'll continue in Texas and we'll continue to do the same thing we do, that's compete every pitch and put our best foot forward."