A this point, we’re all wine snobs about Chris Sale, ruining the simple joy of a starter weathering through seven innings in cold conditions by mentioning petty objections.
“You know, this hasn’t even been good year of Sale, in my opinion.”
“Sale is Sale, sure, but I can do without the aftertaste of wildness and poor fastball command.”
“This Rays lineup is a bit of a joke. I mean, really? Jose Lobaton?”
A five-run offensive outburst combined with two runs over seven innings of work for Sale handed the White Sox one of their easiest wins of the season, a 5-2 triumph in the opener of their four-game set with the Tampa Bay Rays.
Yet despite a three-run first inning offensive outburst that saw the first three Sox hitters reach base, two hits with runners in scoring position AND a sacrifice fly, the night threatened to be defined by another slate of troubling struggles for the newly-minted ace of the franchise.
Sale sprayed 93-94 mph heat all over the place, piled up 60 pitches and four walks through the first three innings, and had Jose Lobaton take a high fastball into the left field bullpen in the fourth. Sale never managed to retire Lobaton for the rest of the night, but for someone whose breakout season was marred just slightly by his tendency to wear down, Sale powered up for the final stretch to change the fate of his evening. He whiffed Desmond Jennings and Ben Zobrist in the fifth, and got Evan Longoria 10 miles in front of a slider in the sixth to remove the last shred of threat from his outing.
The offense–which had previously provided Sale a whopping 10 runs of support over four starts–broke things relatively wide open in turn in the bottom half of the inning. After an Alex Rios walk, Adam Dunn stepped to the plate in the sixth with an ‘.097’ appearing next to his name. Even in his state of disrepair, Dunn showed he’s capable of driving a mediocre down-and-in fastball out to right and extended the Sox advantage to 5-2.
Tampa Bay starter Jeremy Hellickson bookended a night of sharp curveballs with disastrous lapses in command. Besides the Dunn homer, he started his night by allowing back-to-back doubles to Alejandro De Aza and Jeff Keppinger and walking Rios on four pitches. Unable to benefit from a typical breakdown in White Sox offensive execution, the Rays spent the night trying to rally off Sale, and were starved for opportunity after the wildness of the first three innings subsided.
Despite his struggles, Sale could have easily skirted by with even less damage. The first inning RBI single he allowed to Evan Longoria was enabled by Jeff Keppinger failing to prioritize getting the lead runner on a Ben Zobrist grounder to second. Reynolds stopped in his tracks on the way to second, and rather than chase him down, Keppinger resolved to get Zobrist at first instead, perhaps under the idea that a double play was still possible. Reynolds scrambled into scoring position in the meantime, and scored on the very next play.
Even the Lobaton home run was of the 368 foot-long U.S. Cellular Field special variety. Dunn didn’t necessarily deliver his normal damage to his home run, either. It was very cold and hard to do anything.
Matt Lindstrom and Addison Reed conspired on two shutout innings to close things out.
Team Record: 9-12
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