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White Sox Tue Aug 07 2012

Sale Returns Strong, and More White Sox Notes

Chris Sale took the mound for the White Sox on Monday night against the visiting Royals, making his first start after a nine-day rest. The layoff did him quite well.

Sale had a fine outing, going eight strong innings and striking out seven in a 4-2 Sox win. Before the game, not only had Sale been experiencing a drop in velocity and arm discomfort; he also wasn't sharp in starts against the Tigers and Rangers, allowing five runs in each game.

The young lefty with the slingshot release looked himself on this evening, ratcheting pitches up to 95 mph and using his mid-80s changeup to keep Kansas City hitters honest. Sale even mixed in some nice 10-to-4 breaking balls in as well.

The first seven innings went pretty well for Sale, racking up the K's, routine grounders and weak pop ups. There were a few exceptions, though, as Jeff Francoeur and Billy Butler took two of Sale's mistake pitches deep for home runs. Francoeur went opposite field with a liner that found the Royals' bullpen, and Butler crushed a low fastball for a no-doubter to the seats in left field. Sale had a rough fifth inning, with a few warning track fly outs and Francoeur's homer.

Sale's eighth inning was his strongest. After putting runners on the corners in a 2-2 game, Sale worked Chicago out of the jam. He got Alex Gordon to flare out to Alexei Ramirez, who made a nice diving catch on the play. Kansas City screwed up a safety squeeze, and their runner on third, Tony Abreu, was tagged out by Sale. (The Royals screw something up? Never!).

Lorenzo Cain then stepped in the box, but Sale put an absolute clinic on the young outfielder. He started the righty Cain with a sharp breaking ball in for a strike, hummed a fastball past a watching Cain for strike two, and then brought the heat for a swinging strike three. I'm rarely 100% certain with things, but I knew Sale was striking out Cain in this spot. Sale fist pumped and walked off the mound charged up as the fans, and Hawk Harrelson, went berzerk.

The Sox provided the difference in the bottom of the eighth, as Gordon Beckham smashed a home run to left (catch that one, Mike Trout) and Kevin Youkilis drove in an insurance run. It was big game for Sale, and a big win for him and the Sox as well. After looking a little shaky recently, Sale showed that he is ready to pitch in some important games down the stretch. The Sox must be overjoyed right now.

Other notes from the game:

• The time of the game was a scant two hours and 17 minutes. Can we get more games like this, please?

It actually could have been 10 minutes shorter if the Sox didn't rally for their second run in the eighth. Regardless, I love quick baseball games. Who doesn't? There have only been 14 White Sox games this season under two and a half hours; 35 have been over three hours (and four have been 2:58). I know, I can't complain, because it would be even worse if I were following the Red Sox (four under 2:30, 69 over 3 hours). But still.

Monday's game was able to move along nicely for a few reasons. One was the pitching matchup, as Sale and Royals' starter Luis Mendoza were on their games. Mendoza didn't allow a time-sucking walk until the eighth inning, and Sale quickly found a nice pace: with no one on, he would only take 12 seconds, at the most, between pitches, and would even take as little as seven seconds. Fire it in, SPLAT, get the ball back, get the sign, and fire another one in. It also helped that the Royals had no qualms about first-pitch swinging (seven instances of that in the game).

• Opera singer Ailyn Perez belted out the National Anthem before the game. It was very well sung. Only thing was that it was looooong. Reminded me of Bleeding Gums Murphy's rendition of the Star Spangled Banner.

• For some reason, Hawk Harrelson continues to call the Los Angeles Angels "Anaheim." I know they play in Anaheim, and I know the city's name is in their official title, but they changed their name seven years ago and they are commonly known as just the "Los Angeles Angels." Also, it's not like they were known as Anaheim back in Hawk's playing days. They were the California Angels up until 1996. But Hawk sticks with the "Anaheim" tag and that's that.

• My favorite commercial during Sox games is the much-played Leinenkugel's "Summer Shandy" ad, which is played just about every third commercial break. Specifically, I just love how two people in the background are tossing around a Frisbee, only they're like five feet away from each other. Who does that? If a girl and I tossed a Frisbee back-and-forth from two and a half paces away, people would think we're insane. Go deep! Yeah, back up a step or two.

Some more odds and ends:

• After it was announced that John Danks was done for the year, new Sox pitcher Francisco Liriano took a liner off his right leg on Sunday an exited the game soon thereafter. Reports say he is fine though, and Liriano says he should be fine for his next start. Kenny Williams: "Phew!" Liriano suffered a quad contusion, which immediately brought to mind a similar malady mentioned in Yung Humma's song "Lemme Smang It."

• As for Liriano, he looked good in his two starts for the Sox, throwing 11 innings while only allowing three runs off eight hits. He struck out 12 while walking five in his two no decisions. Not bad at all.

I'm horrible at predictions -- I thought the 2008 Washington Nationals would reach the World Series. They won 59 games -- but check out what I wrote about Liriano right after the Sox traded for him: "Liriano can easily post lines like "6 IP, 2 ER, 4 H, 4 BB, 9 K." In his debut on Tuesday, Liriano had a line of 6 IP, 2 ER, 4 H, 4 BB and 8 Ks.

• Though he did not go deep Monday night, AJ Pierzynski has been red-hot lately. He homered in five straight games, driving in 11 runs in that span. Pierzynski now leads MLB catchers in home runs, and is third in RBIs and OPS, and fifth in batting average. His oblique must be fine.

• Since being swept by the Tigers in late July, the Sox are 10-3 in their last 13 games, taking two of three from good teams like the Rangers and Angels. Unfortunately for them, it hasn't amounted to much separation; Detroit has won their last five and trail the Sox by only a game and a half.

The good news is that the Cleveland Indians are done for 2012. They've dropped 10 straight, and they were thrashed Monday night by the Twins, of all teams, by a score of 14-3.

Not like the Indians were really in it anyway. But now, the Sox can put all of their energy and focus onto one team: the Tigers. With the new playoff format making a wild card berth very undesirable (a one-game playoff followed by a re-done homefield advantage for the top AL team), the Sox and Tigers will battle it out against each other the rest of the way. Certainly Sox fans will continue to watch the Sox, but they will also keep a close eye on Tigers' games too.

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