By Scott Merkin and Cody Stavenhagen
MLB.com |@scottmerkin |
CHICAGO -- Chris Sale became the fifth White Sox pitcher since 1913 to win his first seven-plus starts of a season with the South Siders' 7-2 victory over the Twins on Saturday night. Sale joins Eddie Cicotte (12, 1919), John Whitehead (eight, 1935), Jon Garland (eight, 2005) and Jack McDowell (seven, 1993) per STATS.
Sale also became the first starting pitcher to begin a season by winning each of his first seven decisions since Brandon Webb posted a 9-0 record in 2008, per MLB Network pregame notes. Sale allowed two runs over seven innings, matching a season high with nine strikeouts, while giving up three hits. He retired 19 of the final 20 hitters he faced. Sale entered the game with a 4.15 career ERA against the Twins, his highest against any American League opponent.
"He's smart," said Twins catcher Kurt Suzuki, who left the game with upper shoulder trapezius tightness in the fifth inning. "He's not just a thrower. I think he's doing a little more finesse stuff this year than in the past. Obviously, we've got to him in the past, but he's a guy who makes adjustments, and that's why he's as good as he is."
"You're sure he's going to end up figuring it out," said White Sox manager Robin Ventura of Sale, who was 1-4 with a 7.36 ERA in six starts against the Twins last season. "But it's just him being probably a little over-amped, a team that's got to him before."
Ervin Santana returned to the mound for the first time since April 19, sidelined by a back strain, and took the loss by giving up three runs on seven hits and three walks over 3 1/3 innings. Todd Frazier broke a hitless May with a one-out homer in the third on a 0-2 pitch from Santana, but the game remained close until the White Sox scored three in the seventh.
Minnesota has lost four straight, and at 8-22, the Twins have matched the 2012 team for the worst 30-game start since the franchise moved to Minnesota before the 1961 season. The White Sox stand at 3-2 on this six-game homestand and 21-10 overall, with a five-game lead in the AL Central. That lead represents the largest for them since June 13, 2008, which was also five games.
"We are just going to keep doing what we are doing," Sale said. "We are just having fun, and that's what it is. I've said it before. We are playing baseball like we did when we were kids. Coming in, having fun, keeping it loose. And giving it everything we've got."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Rough return: The hope that Santana's return from the disabled list could give the Twins a spark was unfulfilled. He threw 83 pitches, 49 for strikes, and was pulled with the bases loaded in the fourth. Reliever Brandon Kintzler made his season debut for the Twins and got a strikeout and a groundout to keep Santana from being charged with more runs.
"For a long time being out of the game, the stuff was good," Santana said. "Just a couple misses close to the zone, and that was it."
That was unexpected: Sale started Saturday with a WHIP of 0.81 but lost control in the first inning. The left-hander threw 36 pitches, of which 19 were strikes, and forced in one run by walking Oswaldo Arcia with the bases loaded and another by hitting Jorge Polanco. The big pitch of the inning came with two on and two out, when Sale hit Byung Ho Park with a 3-2 offering. The White Sox thought Park swung for strike three, but first-base umpire Pat Hoberg disagreed. It was mound visits from pitching coach Don Cooper and second baseman Brett Lawrie that settled down Sale.
"Just get back to where I need to be. I don't need to strike everyone out," said Sale, who smacked himself in the head twice with the baseball after hitting Polanco. "They've got my back behind me, and it's true. The proof is in the pudding --- guys are making plays behind me and making great plays. 'Let us work behind you. You don't have to overpower everyone.' That's really what got me back on track and I'm thankful for that." More >
"He was overthrowing it, definitely overthrowing the slider," Ventura said. "But I think he finally got into a groove and we were able to score some runs for him."
Disappearing act: After getting two runs against Sale in the first, the Twins offense went cold in a big way. Polanco and Eduardo Nunez were the only Twins with hits after the first. Polanco hit a fourth-inning double, and Nunez singled in the eighth, but production stopped there. In Friday's loss, the White Sox did not have a hit after the fifth inning.
"[Sale] settled in," Twins manager Paul Molitor said. "He started to use his offspeed very effectively and put up zeros. He's a horse."
Breaking the drought: Frazier was hitless this month until he connected off of Santana in the third inning. He added a run-scoring double in the seventh and chipped in two solid defensive plays at third, taking hits away from Arcia and Danny Santana. Until the double, Frazier's last three hits were home runs.
"His bat might not be where he wants it to be, but he's still coming up with big hits," Sale said of Frazier. "All of his hits that he's gotten up to this point, I feel like, are at a big point in the game or a home run when we need it or an RBI when we really need it. That's the key." More >
"I watched that. It was sick. That was awesome. I'll step down for that one any day." -- Sale, on his 7-0 start taking a backseat Saturday to Bartolo Colon's home run
"He has a lot of leeway." -- Ventura, on if Sale was in danger of being pulled in the first
"I feel fine. I've never been in a fight before. … But you get hit, you get dazed, it's kind of like that. " -- Suzuki, on taking a foul ball off the mask
The White Sox have scored 31 runs in the seventh inning, their most in any inning this season, and the most in baseball by one over Pittsburgh in that time frame.
WHAT'S NEXT Twins: Right-hander Tyler Duffey starts the series finale against the White Sox on Sunday at 1:10 p.m. CT. Duffey is 0-1 with a 1.74 ERA in two starts this season.
White Sox:Jose Quintana (4-1, 1.40 ERA) takes the mound for the homestand finale with a chance for the three-game sweep. He has a 3-0 record with a 0.43 ERA over his last three starts. The left-hander is 6-1 with a 1.45 ERA in his last 11 starts dating back to Sept. 5. He's trying for four straight winning decisions for the second time in his career.