CHICAGO – White Sox pitcher Chris Sale walked to his locker room stall before Monday’s game, trying to prepare for his start as if it was any other.
But while he sat in his black leather chair anxiously waiting for the clock to strike 3:10 p.m., Sale’s knee bounced in anticipation and the nerves started to settle in. Sale took the mound on a cool, but sunny day at U.S. Cellular Field against the Kansas City Royals for the first of what should be many Opening Day starts.
With a five-year, $32.5 million contract signed, the 24-year-old lefty, the Sox’s fifth-youngest Opening Day starter, pitched 72/3 scoreless innings in a 1-0 win.
Sale (1-0) became the first Sox pitcher to win his first Opening Day start since Mark Buehrle in 2002.
“It was everything I thought it would be and more,” Sale said. “I thought I did a real good job of kind of collecting myself and not getting too amped up too early or too late and it ended up being a pretty good day.”
The Royals (0-1) haven’t been easy outs for Sale the past three seasons. Entering Monday’s game, Sale owned a 3-3 record and 3.12 ERA against Kansas City. However, a more mature and complete pitcher was on the mound for the season opener. He scattered seven hits and struck out seven Royals while issuing only one walk.
But more importantly, Sale pitched effectively using 104 pitches (72 strikes).
The Sox (1-0) provided Sale just enough offense, courtesy of catcher Tyler Flowers’ fifth-inning home run off James Shields (0-1), and Addison Reed picked up his first save.
“There’s a lot of hype around this [Opening Day start] and sometimes if you get too hyped up or get too many thoughts going in your mind, it can get derailed on you real quick,” Sale said.
Sale’s changeup was as impressive as it has been since he joined the Sox in 2010. Averaging 10 mph slower than the fastballs Kansas City hitters faced, Sale kept the Royals off balance using a pitch that was rarely his first choice in key situations last season.
Of the 21 changeups he threw, 16 were strikes and the only one hit into play came against the last batter he faced, Alcides Escobar, in the eighth. The pitch complements his 94 mph fastball and one of the best sliders in the game.
“I was trying to calm him down because I could see it starting to happen,” Flowers said of Sale. “He was getting quicker in between pitches, his windup gets quicker and then he starts leaving stuff over the plate. I was calming him down – he made good pitches, Escobar made a good piece of hitting on that ball.”
Jake Peavy, who has taken to mentoring Sale, said his young teammate is “hands down” the No. 1 pitcher on the Sox’s staff, saying “We’re going to lean on Chris and we need him to have a big year if we’re going to be who we want to be.”