Sale and Flowers Power White Sox To 1-0 Opening Day Win
Sale dominated today. (Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports)
Making people forget about A.J. Pierzynski is a long project that Tyler Flowerswill likely never fully complete, but at least he got off to a good start.
The newly-minted starting catcher broke a scoreless tie in the bottom of the fifth inning with a solo shot to left, simultaneously giving fans a reason to shed their blankets and move around for once and atoning for striking out with runners on 1st and 2nd in the second innings. The offense was desperately needed, partially due to Jeff Passan’s earnest attempts to terrify everyone minutes before the first pitch.
Opening Day got off to a crisp start for every big-budget starter involved. How much of that could be attributed to brutally cold and shadowy conditions that discouraged any activity besides huddling in the dugout is anyone’s guess, but Chris Sale looked crisp all the same. He flashed 94 mph heat in the first inning, and even some 93’s in the middle frames. It was more than enough to set up his changeup and slider, which he used to strike out 7 through 7.2 IP. Sale had some trouble with his location early, but he pitched through it. His changeup was fantastic all game, and he held the Royals to 7 singles and one walk.
James’ favorite pitch of the day was the slider Sale used to fan Billy Butler with the bases loaded in the third before a Mike Moustakas popout ended the threat entirely. I’m still trying to decide whether Sale’s changeups looked filthier to Moustakas or to Sal Perez.
For today at least, James Shields looked plenty up to the task of heading up the Royals rotation, striking out 6 through 6IP with no walks, getting Sox batters to chase his changeup in the dirt, and with only one case of his typical longball troubles counting against him. However, today also illustrated a point that I have been making since the Royals traded for Shields: Shields is a nice pitcher, but you can make a good argument that Sale is one of a number of pitchers in the division who are still better. Sale also got help from his defense, who turned two double plays, and Gordon Beckham specifically made a great diving catch with a runner on and none out in the seventh on a high line drive by Lorenzo Cain. Jeff Keppinger also made a nice play on a slow roller to third in the 8th.
Sale got pulled after 104 pitches and 7.2IP following a soft single by Alcides Escobar, and Billy Butler coming to the plate. Nate Jones was tabbed to come in for the extremely high leverage situation. Unfortunately his control was a mess (an entirely foreseeable development), and he walked Butler. Between a steal and a wild pitch for ball four, that left runners on the corners with two out. Ventura turned to Matt Thornton to face the lefty Moustakas, and Thornton struck him out on three fastballs.
Addison Reed threw a few sliders to Sal Perez and induced a groundout to start the 9th, but walked Hosmer on a full count. Reed seemed much more comfortable throwing his slider to right-handers, which makes sense. Reed would then strike out Cain swinging, although Hosmer stole second on the pitch with Reed slow to home and not making any attempt to hold him at all. Jeff Francoeur would come up with first base open and a RHP on the mound. I was sure Ventura would IBB him, but he didn’t, and so Francoeur grounded out to short on the first pitch for a White Sox winner. It was tense, as 1-0 victories so often are.
Interestingly, in the 9th inning, Ventura used Conor Gillaspie as a defensive replacement for Paul Konerko at 1B.
Alexei Ramirez had a pair of singles, and Alex Rios had two as well with a walk and a stolen base.
Jerry Layne’s strike zone behind home plate was often baffling.
It was the White Sox’ first 1-0 opening day victory since 2005.