Sale fired his sixth career complete game Sunday at U.S. Cellular Field, allowing just one run on two hits with nine strikeouts and no walks. Sox captain Paul Konerko hit a solo homer and a two-run double to provide the bulk of the offense as the Sox avoided a sweep at the hands of the visiting Padres with a 4-1 win before 23,185.
"I mean he's the definition of ace," Konerko said. "There's 30 teams in the league and a lot less aces than teams if you really start looking at it. We've got one of them. That's always a good feeling that every time he touches the ball, there's really no one he can go up against that you really feel like the underdog.
"Since he's come off the DL, the ball's just jumping out of his hand and he's got something for both sides, I think that's the key. He's got that big slider for lefties, and his changeup looks as good as I've ever seen it."
Sale did what has seemingly become the norm for him, taking a perfect game into the fifth by retiring the first 12 he faced before Chase Headley broke up the bid for history and shutout with one swing of the bat, crushing a 2-1 fastball deep into the stands for a leadoff homer that tied the game at 1. Tommy Medica followed with a single, but Sale responded by retiring the Padres in order.
"He locates, throws three pitches for strikes," Headley said. "I think he's a guy who is tough on guys facing him for the first time. He just attacks the zone. And he's got the stuff where he can do that."
Sale's last start on Tuesday against the Indians was washed away by rain after three innings of no-hit ball. By going perfect through the first four innings on Sunday, Sale reached 14 consecutive scoreless innings before Headley's bomb. He was perfect through 5 2/3 innings before Zoilo Almonte singled for the Yankees on May 22. Sale also took a no-hitter through 5 2/3 innings against the Red Sox on April 17 that was broken up by a Xander Bogaerts home run.
In short, it seems like Sale has a shot to fire a no-hitter or perfect game every time he takes the mound. Sox manager Robin Ventura agreed the best comparison to Sale is Randy Johnson, who tossed one no-hitter and a perfect game in his career and has the same tall, lanky build as Sale.
"He's probably going to have a couple more chances in his career, I hope," Ventrua said of Sale throwing a no-no or perfect game. "When you have that kind of stuff, you have the ability to do that and you will have a time where he's going to get really close."
In his three starts since coming off the DL, Sale has allowed one earned run on three hits while striking out 14 and walking one in 18 innings. Dating back to the start against Boston, Sale has an 0.72 ERA with 33 strikeouts and a .051 opponents' average over the four-start stretch. Sunday's masterpiece lowered his ERA to 1.73 with the ace making quick work of the Padres' hitters, completing the game in just two hours, eight minutes.
"Yeah, I've always liked to work fast, it keeps your guys in it," Sale said. "They're ready to go behind you, get in and off the field, especially today, it was warm today, kind of hot so you don't want them standing out there for a long period of time."
Sale landed on the DL shortly after needing a career-high 127 pitches against Boston to go seven innings. On Sunday, he used 100 pitches to go the distance, the second-lowest pitch count of his complete games.
"He was fantastic today, even with his stuff," Ventura said. "As strong as he was really attacking the strike zone, as soon as he got in there he was getting guys to swing early because he was throwing strikes. This was as efficient as he has been ever from watching him. He was pounding the strike zone and down in the zone, too."
Konerko got the scoring started with a two-out solo shot in the second, the 437th of his career. He then provided Sale a more comfortable cushion with a key two-out hit in the sixth. After Dayan Viciedo reached on a fielder's choice with one out and Alexei Ramirez walked with two outs, Konerko delivered a two-run double to left that scored both runners and gave the Sox a 4-1 lead.
"That's a good day. Just trying to chip in," Konerko said. "I'm here to have good days against left-handed pitching like that, and you try to do your best on the other days. It's been a bit of a whirlwind the past couple weeks getting back in there and playing, but it's good to have it today with the way [Sale] pitched.
"Quick game, get out of here, get to the West Coast and hopefully set up for tomorrow, try to get off on the right foot in that series as opposed to what happened here."
The Sox, who have climbed back to .500 at 29-29, travel West for a six-game road trip in the Los Angeles area. First comes the a three-game set with the Dodgers, followed by a trifecta at the Big A in Anaheim. After dropping the first two games of this series, there was no better way to cap off a 10-game homestand than by winning in speedy fashion.
"Sailor, you couldn't draw it up any better for a getaway day," Konerko said. "Easy, quick win. That was good."