CHICAGO – White Sox left-hander Chris Sale had 30 minutes to sit on the bench and try to not think about what was happening on the field.
Through the first six innings of the Sox's 3-0 victory against the Angels on Sunday, Sale was flawless. He was the model of efficiency, needing only 65 pitches to retire the first 18 batters to set up his bid at perfection. The Angels certainly helped Sale with their lack of patience, as 10 of those batters recorded an out on three pitches or fewer.
“I mean, you kind of start thinking about it,” Sale said. “I was around the fourth or fifth inning and come back in after the sixth and nobody is talking to you. You are kind of excluded in the dugout and feel kind of funny.”
But Sale had plenty of time to contemplate how he would get the final nine outs. Angels starting pitcher C.J. Wilson milked every second he could while on the mound in the bottom half of the sixth, which spanned about a half hour. Sale tried to stay loose during the long wait, stretching and jumping around.
However, Sale’s quest for the 24th perfect game in Major League Baseball history fell short. With one out in the seventh inning, outfielder Mike Trout sent a 2-0 fastball up the middle for the Angels’ first – and ultimately only – hit of the game. But more importantly for the Sox, Sale prevented the Angels from completing the three-game sweep.
“I said it early, if it was meant to be, it would have happened,” Sale said of his near perfect game. “It just didn’t happen. No big deal.”
Despite Trout ruining his shot at perfection, Sale (4-2) recorded his first complete-game shutout and retired a career-high 19 consecutive batters.
“You think about [the perfect game], but you’ve got to keep your mind on everything, on the other side of the ball,” manager Robin Ventura said. “I think when he’s pitching like that, you’re just going to let him go. I have that confidence in him that it’s his game.”
Catcher Tyler Flowers described the experience as nerve-wracking and tried to stay focused on what pitches to call for each upcoming hitter. When he saw shortstop Alexei Ramirez's outstanding defensive effort to rob Alberto Collaspo of a hit up the middle to start of the seventh, Flowers thought Sale’s perfect game was meant to be. Three pitches later it was over.
“I thought we were going to get it, but that's a pretty good lineup over there,” Flowers said. “It wasn't a bad pitch to Trout either. It was a pretty well located [fastball] down in the zone.”
Given Sale’s ability to mix pitches and rely on a fastball-changeup combination, Sunday’s performance likely won’t be the last time he flirts with a no-hitter. On his 98th and final pitch of the game, Sale tossed a 95 mph fastball that resulted in an easy fly ball out to right field as his domination never wavered. The Angels drew only one three-ball count against the 24-year-old.
Even in the first inning Sale seemed primed for a special night. The Sox expect many more to come from their young ace.
“I didn’t wake up this morning and say, ‘I want to throw a perfect game or a no-hitter,’” Sale said. “I come to the ballpark every day when I’m pitching and just want to keep my team in the game and win this game. We did.”
• Meghan Montemurro covers the White Sox and Cubs for Shaw Media. Write to her at email@example.com. Read the Sox Insider and Inside the Cubs blogs at NWHerald.com and on Twitter @Sox_Insider and @InsideTheCubs.