Sale keeps team focus amid achievements

Possible All-Star Game starter credits fellow White Sox after his 14th win

Sale keeps team focus amid achievements

HOUSTON -- Chris Sale picked up his 14th victory of the 2016 season via the White Sox 7-6 win over the Astros on Saturday afternoon at Minute Maid Park. The left-hander also moved closer to starting for the American League during the All-Star Game presented by MasterCard on July 12 in San Diego behind his dominant start to the season.

By allowing four earned runs in seven-plus innings, Sale posted the most AL wins before the All-Star break since David Wells won 15 in 2000 for the Blue Jays. Only knuckleballer Wilbur Wood has more first-half wins in franchise history, winning 18 in '73, 16 in '74 and 15 in '72.

So how does this remarkable total feel for one of the game's true aces? No different than any other of his many career accomplishments.

"One more [win] than 13," said Sale with a smile. "That's about it.

"I probably had the least to do with this win today, which is nice. You get through a game like this, and it makes you appreciate it a little bit more, having the guys in your corner doing what they did for me."

Sale's nine-strikeout game

As usual, Sale seems to undersell his contributions.

Yes, the Astros' tough lineup from top to bottom did touch up Sale, marking the fourth time in 17 starts that Sale yielded more than three earned runs. But after his teammates rallied from a 4-2 deficit to claim a 5-4 lead in the fifth, Sale shifted into high gear.

Houston managed one Marwin Gonzalez single from the fourth through the seventh, with Sale picking up seven of his nine strikeouts in that span. Sale gave credit to catcher Alex Avila for helping him get through a rougher-than-usual opening three innings, which included Jose Altuve's first-inning home run.

Altuve's solo home run

"Both of my catchers picked me up today," said a laughing Sale, referring to Dioner Navarro's four RBIs in his first White Sox start at designated hitter.

"It's my job to know what combinations of pitches are working best for him, what's going to get the swings and misses or ground balls and quick outs," Avila said. "He was a little off with his command early, particularly with his fastball, but as the game went on, he was able to throw his slider quite often to get swings and misses. That gave him more confidence with the fastball."

Navarro's triple plates a pair

A fourth-inning strikeout of Luis Valbuena gave Sale 1,000 innings pitched for his career. That total has been achieved via parts of five years as an All-Star starting pitcher and parts of two years as a reliever.

And whether he was at his sharpest on Saturday or just very good, whether he appreciates the 14 victories on an individual level or pushes them off to the side, this 41-win White Sox team would not be in AL Wild Card contention without Sale.

"No doubt that it's nice, it's important," Sale said. "But I've said it a million times: 'There's only one win-loss record that matters.'"

"He's pitching like a true ace, for sure," Avila said. "Those No. 1 guys expect to go out and throw nine innings and not give up any hits. Anything else for them is not a successful day."

Scott Merkin has covered the White Sox for MLB.com since 2003. Read his blog, Merk's Works, follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin, on Facebook and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.