Sale goes the distance in series-clinching win

Sale goes the distance in series-clinching win

Sale goes the distance in series-clinching win
CHICAGO -- The complete-game victory during the White Sox's 4-2 win over the Mariners Sunday at U.S. Cellular Field went to Chris Sale.

Sale (7-2) also deserved a save for his efforts.

After manager Robin Ventura employed all seven of his relievers and Jose Quintana during Saturday's 12-inning loss to Seattle, Sale put Sunday's game upon his thin, but sturdy, shoulders.

It took him 119 pitches, of which 81 went for strikes. But when Sale fanned Miguel Olivo on a 1-2 slider in the ninth pitch of the final at-bat, his work was done for the day with eight strikeouts and five hits allowed.

"Everybody knows he's nasty," said Olivo of Sale, who threw the White Sox's fourth complete game this season and first of his career.

"He was great," said Ventura of Sale. "He's jumping ahead and making guys swing and miss. He keeps getting better if there's any way to do that after 15 strikeouts. He's a talented kid with a lot of guts and everything else."

Thanks to a six-pitch seventh and a seven-pitch eighth, Ventura decided to let Sale finish what he started. There was results-based reasoning to support the 23-year-old, who had not allowed a hit since Michael Saunders' leadoff double in the fifth.

Pitch counts, innings counts and every other count certainly are monitored in Sale's first year as a starter, but Ventura and pitching coach Don Cooper act just as much by how Sale feels while he's on the mound. Sale had asked Ventura about going back for the ninth, with Nate Jones warming in the bullpen, and that permission was granted with one caveat.

"I asked him, 'Can you let me go back out?' He goes, 'Yeah, you got to be efficient, though,'" said Sale of his talk with Ventura. "I wasn't quite as efficient as I needed to be, but I was very thankful for him to give the opportunity to go back out there and finish the game."

Jesus Montero singled to open the ninth, but Justin Smoak hit into a double play started by third baseman Orlando Hudson two pitches later. Dustin Ackley singled to left, bringing Olivo to the plate as the potential game-tying run.

Olivo launched a mammoth homer to center to give the Mariners a 2-0 lead in the second, connecting on a fastball. In the ninth, Sale threw two fastballs, one changeup and six sliders to get Olivo swinging and secure the White Sox's 10th win in 11 games and 14th in their last 16.

"Obviously, last hitter of the game and you are bearing down right there. It was tough," said Sale of facing Olivo. "He got me early, so just really try to keep the ball down to him and Flow [Tyler Flowers] did a heck of a job, just keep pounding, keep pounding, keep pounding and we eventually got him."

"His numbers aren't there right now, but he's not a joke when he's up at the plate," said Flowers of Olivo. "We tried everything in the book to try to get him out. Finally, a little backdoor slider worked."

Kevin Millwood (3-5) lasted only four innings for the Mariners, walking five and allowing seven hits, as the White Sox (31-23) chipped away and eventually grabbed the lead by scoring one in the second, one in the third and two in the fourth. Gordon Beckham and Alex Rios delivered run-scoring singles in that tie-breaking inning.

Beckham and Rios represented a couple of the everyday White Sox players in Sunday's lineup. The flu and Saturday's 12-inning contest earned reserves such as Brent Lillibridge, Eduardo Escobar, Kosuke Fukudome and Flowers a start against Millwood.

Escobar even moved from third base to left field when Fukudome left due to back stiffness after the second inning.

"When you consider yourself a utility player, you'll play wherever they play you," said Escobar through translator and White Sox director of cultural development Jackson Miranda. "That's fine with me."

This reserve quartet combined for five hits and three runs scored in increasing the White Sox's AL Central lead to 2 1/2 games over the Indians (28-25) and six over the Tigers (25-29). But Sale was the primary story in the White Sox's fifth victory in six games against the Mariners.

Topping Monday's 15-strikeout performance at Tropicana Field stood as a major challenge for Sale. Throwing the complete game, in the context of the weekend, just might have been even more impressive.

"They have been working real hard for us back there," said Sale of helping the bullpen. "Any time you can give them a day off, it's awesome. I had the mindset of being efficient and getting late into the game.

"I'm trying to take it day by day and inning by inning and really just trying to exclude every other thought other than executing pitches and whatever they throw down, that's what I'm throwing. That's where I'm trying to stay now."

A 4-0 record and 1.26 ERA over his last four starts, not to mention allowing three runs or fewer in each of his first 10 starts, has the White Sox also hoping Sale stays right where he is now. The scary thing for the opposition is this young southpaw has a chance to get even better.

"Physically, I feel better and better every time out," Sale said. "Pitching is so much about finding grooves.

"I've been fortunate to be able to find that groove and let it go. The way that the hitters are hitting and putting runs on the board, and you know you have an unbelievable defense behind you, it makes it easier to go out there and do my job."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for Read his blog, Merk's Works, and follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.