"Any time you let one slip away, especially to start a trip, it's tough," said Sale after the White Sox lost their second straight.
"You want more out of it than that," said White Sox manager Robin Ventura, focusing on the lack of offensive and defensive support for his starter.
Sale struck out 14 over eight innings, setting a season high and falling one strikeout shy of his single-game career high, while allowing five singles. But the White Sox offense couldn't figure out Houston starter Erik Bedard (2-3), who entered with a 5.34 ERA, and their defense basically did the rest to lead the team in the wrong direction to open this 10-game road trip.
The White Sox held a 1-0 lead in the fifth when Ronny Cedeno reached on what was ruled an error by shortstop Alexei Ramirez to start the inning. It was a tough play for Ramirez, who tried to one-hand the slow roller with his glove but couldn't come up with it cleanly as Cedeno slid headfirst into the bag.
Cedeno moved to second on a wild pitch, and with two outs, Sale walked No. 9 hitter Trevor Crowe on four pitches for his only free pass.
"That was not a good time to walk somebody," said Sale of the Crowe at-bat. "That's for sure."
There still seemed to be an easy escape route for Sale when Brandon Barnes hit a grounder to Ramirez. But when Ramirez rushed the throw to second for the force on Crowe, on a play that Crowe might have beaten regardless, he threw the ball into right field and allowed the tying run to score and Crowe to reach third.
Jose Altuve followed with a go-ahead infield single, gloved by Jeff Keppinger with a diving stop at third base, but the throw was too late to get Altuve. Those two unearned runs represented the output against a dominant Sale, who used 124 pitches to get through eight innings.
Ventura pulled no postgame punches when talking about his expectations for those fifth-inning miscues.
"Those are ones we need to make," said Ventura in a matter-of-fact and direct tone. "They were kind of a little one way or the other as far as that one and with Kepp. But that's baseball. You've got to make it."
Adam Dunn's sacrifice fly in the fourth scored Paul Konerko with the only White Sox run, after Konerko opened the frame with a double to left. There certainly were other chances against Bedard and relievers Jose Cisnero, Travis Blackley and Jose Veras (12th save), but in a reoccurring theme from this season, the White Sox failed to convert.
Konerko and Dunn walked to start the second and a Casper Wells infield single loaded the bases with two outs, but Tyler Flowers struck out swinging to end the threat. Wells walked and Ramirez singled to put two runners on in the fifth, but Alex Rios struck out looking.
Two-out singles by Flowers and leadoff man Gordon Beckham in the seventh were wasted when Ramirez grounded into a force at second. In the ninth, with Veras behind every hitter, he fanned Flowers to end the contest and strand pinch-runner Jordan Danks at first.
This game marked the South Siders' first since a Tuesday loss, with Wednesday's contest being postponed because of the threat of inclement weather and Thursday being an off-day. It also was the first regular-season game between these two teams in Houston since the White Sox wrapped up a World Series sweep in 2005 via a 1-0 victory in Game 4.
Aside from the names on the jersey and Konerko being in both lineups, there doesn't seem to be much similarity between the '05 and '13 White Sox quads. Then again, Sale's performance would have fit right in with that rotation.
A chance was given to Sale to come back out for the eighth, despite the left-hander sitting at 108 pitches. Sale hadn't pitched since last Friday, and Ventura wanted to give him a chance to win.
Instead, Sale (5-5) fell to 0-3 over his last three starts, while allowing five earned runs in 21 1/3 innings, striking out 25, walking four and earning a large dose of respect from another opponent.
"Absolutely one of the best [pitchers] we've faced this year," Altuve said. "If we face him again, he'll be one of the best then, too. We're going to do the best we can, but he had his stuff all night."
"Try to match him. That didn't work, but I wasn't far off," Bedard said. "Don't get mixed up in the other guy's results. Obviously, he was pretty good."
Sale's value goes beyond what he can do on the mound. After talking to the media postgame, he walked over to the locker of Alexei Ramirez, where the shortstop sat with his head in his hands and looking at the ground. Sale patted him on the back and offered words of encouragement, not putting the blame on anyone.
"If he was a robot, and that happens, hey, something's wrong. But you can't expect perfection out of everybody all the time," Sale said. "I went over there and gave him a tap on the shoulder and told him, 'Hey, you're still the best. Stuff happens.'"