This was an inexcusably terrible weekend for recaps on the site.* Trips to the game, site outages, Mother’s Day all conspired against anything resembling consistent coverage, which is bad and should be remedied.
*Shades of ‘James’ trip to St. Louis Beerfest 2012′ on White Sox Observer!
However, recaps certainly haven’t been much fun of recent. They’ve often been losses, which doesn’t help, but while every team has a way they typically go about losing games, the White Sox have established their type early and it’s an unpleasant one. Their offense provides a razor-thin margin of error for their run prevention crew, the pitching either fails to uphold the standard despite a competent effort, or is betrayed by grating defensive tomfoolery.
Few recaps differentiated from the larger slide of the team toward a difficult set of decisions, so in those terms, the White Sox needed this game. Chris Sale stretching a perfect game to the seventh inning, throwing the first shutout of his career and making it a one-hitter to boot–was easily the most superlative performance and exciting night of the season–something rousing to arrest a disquietingly quiet descent into the bottom of the division.
But it also comes in the wake of a team meeting hosted by Robin Ventura that was quickly followed by another sloppily-played loss on Saturday. Despite Paul Konerko, a veteran of struggle-inspired team meetings at this point in life, insisting that a lack of an immediate, inspired result was not an indictment of the meeting’s effect, an emphatic triumph on the back of Chris Sale washes away some concern Ventura’s pleas went ignored, or were above what his group was capable of fulfilling. The team needed a win to stop more inevitable conversations from happening immediately.
ESPN isn’t scheduled to cast its eyes upon the White Sox again this season and its unlikely that they’ll go out of their way to amend that. But while a good White Sox team usually seems unjustly denied of attention, this seemed like an awful time to shine a national spotlight on their state of affairs. Their league-worst offense is the fodder that damning statistical graphics are made for, their fielding errors–while overemphasized–make for particularly terrible television, especially during a showcase for the league. Sale didn’t just run interference on these issues, he commanded attention for the White Sox in a positive way that went past the results of the game. He even led some version of SportsCenter or ESPNews or whatever is on at the gym at 11 pm, an put those sleek 1983 uniforms on display for everyone.
Probably the least pressing concern that was addressed Sunday night was the actual work of Chris Sale. He dropped his ERA by over half a run to under 3.00 in one night. He’s a month removed from his nightmare in Cleveland and has had quality outings in his other seven starts, even if his most dominant form has been absent all season. It may still be absent, at least in terms of strikeouts (seven over nine innings), but Sunday was the strongest indication that everything is OK with the pitcher the Sox have tabbed as their ace since they inked his extension
Sale’s velocity was outstanding, easily sitting 93-95 and topping out at 96 mph. More importantly, he was throwing it by hitters for swinging strikes at those rates and his changeup was so dominant that it converted his slider into a luxury item. It goes without saying that May is too early in the season to say anything about Sale’s ability to hold up, but it looks fine and highly enjoyable right now. As much as the occasional rough patch and regression is deserved for Sale, the White Sox certainly don’t have anything else working strong enough to endure such a period.
There were certainly troubling elements remaining. Removing the highest-paid hitter from the lineup is not something you want to have to do to jump-start the offense, Jeff Keppinger put his entire physical force into a ball and it resulted in a looping 285-foot ball to left field and a thoroughly out of sorts C.J. Wilson was dueling Sale to a draw for most of the night, but a fully-working ace enabled the Sox to put their best face on for the rest of the world.
It doesn’t change anything about the White Sox reality. The offense remains in a state that makes previous years where the run support for Jake Peavy and John Danks was maligned seem like the salad days, but Sale makes team legitimacy appear closer than it might really be.
Follow James Fegan on Twitter @JRFegan