CHICAGO – Games such as Friday’s put the injury scare Chris Sale faced earlier this season further in his rearview mirror.
Sale fired his second complete game of the season in a 7-1 victory over the Seattle Mariners, missing the shutout in the ninth inning after left fielder Dayan Viciedo's misplay in left field set up the lone run. Viciedo made up for things in other areas, collecting a home run among his four hits, while also throwing out a runner at second base.
Now on the cusp of another appearance in the All-Star Game, things were far from this promising when Sale went down in April with an injury to a muscle in his forearm. The possibility of Tommy John surgery was broached, and Sale admitted later that he was scared.
These days, his biggest worries come from being so close to a shutout, only to miss it by a few outs. The Mariners scored their only run Friday on Corey Hart's ninth-inning sacrifice fly.
Sale won’t even fret over the release Sunday of the American League All-Star squad and whether he will be invited to baseball’s biggest summertime party.
“It is what it is; if it happens, awesome," Sale said. “For me, it's a win-win situation. Either you're going to the All-Star Game, or you're getting to go hang out with your family for four straight days.”
Friday’s dominating effort wasn’t all that difficult to see coming. The left-handed-heavy Mariners had six lefty bats in the lineup against Sale, never a combination for success against the White Sox ace. Entering Friday’s game, left-handed hitters were 4-for-45 (.089) against Sale this season.
Give the Mariners credit for getting four of the six hits off Sale from their left-handed hitters. Robinson Cano actually hit a double, although that was more a product of Viciedo’s bad play in left field during the ninth inning that put runners on second and third with one out.
With Sale just two outs away from finishing what he started, White Sox manager Robin Ventura made a trip to the mound that was equal parts rest break, pep talk and crowd stimulation -- that last coming when Ventura left the mound without his starting pitcher in tow to earn a roar from one of the largest audiences of the season.
“I was just making sure he’s all right,” Ventura said. “The way the score was, I just wanted to make sure he was feeling all right. He looked like he was throwing fine, but to have that conversation with him was more what it’s about.”
Hart then delivered his sacrifice fly, with White Sox right fielder Moises Sierra nearly throwing out Willie Bloomquist at the plate. Sale backed up the play, retrieved the ball that short-hopped catcher Tyler Flowers and appeared to angrily fire it to third base, giving him an unofficial 113th pitch on the night.
Sale downplayed the anger part of it.
“I thought I had a chance [to get the runner at third base],” Sale said. “I didn't know I was going to blow up [third baseman] Conor [Gillaspie] right there as much as I did. Obviously, with all the cacophony going on in the ballpark, the emotions get the best of you sometimes, so I just try not to focus on any of that, and I keep it going.”
If anything would hurt Sale’s All-Star bid, it would be a low number of innings after spending a month on the disabled list. Nobody could possibly argue with his 8-1 record and 2.16 ERA in 13 starts.
“I believe he should be in the All-Star Game," Ventura said. “You do want to win the game because it’s important. I’m sure if they want to win, he’d be a guy I’d want.”