Chris Sale is taking the term “hard luck” to new heights. Or is it depths?
Once again the White Sox lost on a day when Sale showed why he’s the ace of a major league staff. Sure, he gave up three runs to one of baseball’s hottest teams, but he also struck out 10 batters, something he’s now done three times in his past four starts without once picking up a win. He took another “L” on Sunday, as the Sox fell, 4-0, to complete their four-game sweep at the hands of the visiting Cleveland Indians at U.S. Cellular Field.
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“He’s pitching fine,” manager Robin Ventura said after his team’s fifth straight loss. “It’s just one of those, they were efficient and when they got a hit, it seemed like it put them ahead. It’s tough luck, but you see the stretch he’s been on with the strikeouts and getting to eight innings. It’s tough luck. You run into a guy that kind of carves us up, it’s frustrating.”
Tough luck, indeed. Sale will likely be very happy to see the calendar turn to July. Sunday’s start on the final day of June was his sixth of the month, and despite striking out 53 hitters in 42 1/3 innings of work during the month, he finished with an 0-5 record.
After the latest loss, Sale was hardly verbose.
"Yeah. Like you said, just another tough one,” the lefty said. “Just got to keep your head up, keep plugging along, keep chugging and try to put this one behind us."
Sale’s day started out phenomenally, as he set down the first nine hitters he faced in order, retiring five via the strikeout. He ran into trouble in the fourth when a leadoff bunt single eventually led to a two-out Indians rally that featured RBI hits from Ryan Raburn and Carlos Santana. An inning later, Lonnie Chisenhall drove in a run with an RBI groundout that plated Cleveland’s third run of the day off Sale.
But that’s all they’d get off the starter, who settled right back in and retired nine of the final 12 hitters he faced. He struck out 10 on the day for his fourth double-digit strikeout outing of the season and third of the month.
“Yeah for the most part (he was strong),” catcher Tyler Flowers said. “He just missed a couple of spots on Raburn, especially. Other than that I just tried to calm him down and he did the rest. He gave us a chance today and that’s all you can ask.”
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But the White Sox offense couldn’t do anything with that chance.
For the third time this season, Sale received zero runs of support as his opponent, Cleveland starter Justin Masterson, tossed a complete-game shutout in a complete silencing of the Sox offense. Masterson faced the minimum through six, allowing three hits but watching those base runners immediately erased on a pair of double plays and a pick off. The Sox had their best chance in the seventh, putting the first two hitters on, but their third double play dampened that threat. And an inning later, they made it four twin killings on the afternoon.
“He was throwing a variation of sliders, changing speeds on it and obviously his sinker,” Flowers said of the Indians pitcher, who picked up his 10th win of the season. “Whenever we got guys on base he seemed to let us hit that one just enough to give them a nice double play.”
“He’s a good pitcher,” Ventura said. “If he’s throwing what he’s capable of like today, he’s tough on lefties and righties. You would think where he delivers from it would be easier for lefties. But when you can move it around and have a slider like that, a slider and a sinker, it doesn’t make it easy on either side.”
The Sox have their own good pitcher, one they couldn’t support Sunday. Team-first all the way, it took several tries to get Sale to mention his personal performances, which have been top-notch despite his and the team’s lack of results. Of course, he put the blame on himself.
"I wish I could do a little bit more,” Sale said. “I'd like to listen to some loud music, having fun and laughing a little bit. But that's part of it. Going to go through some rough spots, but our focus is on turning this around and heading in the right direction."
It’s unknown whether the Sox will be able to get this going in the right direction anytime soon. The facts are starting to become alarming: five straight losses for the third time this year, eight shutouts and the first Cleveland four-game sweep of the Sox in Chicago since 1948.
It’s just the latest chapter in a season that seems to get more frustrating by the day.
"It's frustrating losing for any team,” Sale said. “Any time you start losing a few in a row, you're going to get frustrated. But that's in every sport, every team. Our focus is on turning this around and heading in the right direction."
Can you guys do that, Chris?