Win or lose, Sale worth the price

Chris Sale suffered his first loss of the season Thursday despite giving up just one run. AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

CHICAGO -- White Sox outfielder Adam Eaton was walking through the tunnel in the visiting dugout in Anaheim, Calif., last Saturday when he looked down at his feet and saw something familiar: The remains of his bat.

"I saw the actual handle down underneath the tunnel and was like, 'That handle kinda looks familiar,' " Eaton said before Thursday's 4-0 loss to the Detroit Tigers.

As viewers saw on the TV broadcast, or a viral GIF, after giving up a tying grand slam to Mike Trout in the eighth inning, White Sox pitcher Chris Sale calmly walked off the field, grabbed a bat from the bat rack and took a monster hack in the tunnel.

It was Eaton's batting-practice lumber.

"He came up and said, 'Hey, I owe you a bat.' Even if it was my game bat, I wouldn't care," Eaton said.

"He breaks some stuff," White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. "There's a lot of guys that do that."

Few as important as Sale, the mustachioed, grimacing face of the South Side. He looks like Doc Holliday with a changeup.

Forget Eaton's BP bats. Sale could make a bonfire of the team's entire bat inventory and Ventura would just send Sox clubbie Vince Fresso to Sports Authority with Jerry Reinsdorf's Black Card.

The fiery left-hander kept his cool after giving up another homer Thursday, a solo shot by Victor Martinez in the fifth. That turned out to be the deciding run.

But don't worry. No Eaton bats were harmed in the making of Sale's first loss.

"They made it through," Sale said. "They made it through."

The Tigers avoided a sweep and restored a 3½-game lead in the American League Central on the third-place White Sox. But the real story was the pitching matchup at the Cell, Sale versus Max Scherzer.

People around the globe were surely tuned in after Brazil won the World Cup opener, right? Judging by the robust crowd of 20,626, maybe all the Sox fans were watching two games at home, booing LeBron James and hissing Sox hitters.

Wherever they might've been watching, spectators got a good show from the pitchers, at least.

For one night, Sale wasn't the pitching star. Scherzer pitched his first complete game in his 179th career start. Not bad for a guy who turned down a monster contract extension in the offseason.

"Finally got the monkey off my back, finally was able to go nine and finish the deal," said Scherzer, who escaped a celebratory beer shower.

"No, everybody just gave me a hug," the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner said. "I was kind of worried about that because the beer showers are cold."

Sale (5-1, 1.97 ERA), a bargain at any price, gave up one run and five hits in seven innings. He struck out 10 and walked none for the second time this season. He was perfect through his first three innings, which took a combined 13 minutes to complete. Sale still hasn't been hit in a first inning this season, but he's not counting records or strikeouts. Sale's old-fashioned -- he wants team wins.

"I don't put too much emphasis on numbers and strikeouts and those kind of things," Sale said.

Neither pitcher would admit to being seduced into an "Ace-Off," as MLB's official Twitter account dubbed it. But it's not as if Scherzer was unaware of who was out there.

"It's fun like that, you've got to match him," Scherzer said. "We've got a great offense and he's holding us down for seven innings."

But all it took was one mistake.

Sale has given up only four homers in 59⅓ innings this season, but three have come in his past three starts. Those are the mistakes that drive him.

"Since my last start, I had a lot of time to ruminate about what I needed to get better at," he said. "The last game it was giving up a homer and this game it was giving up a homer. [Martinez] is probably hitting about .700 off me now. I've got to be better against him and in those situations."

To be fair, Martinez is now hitting only .500 (13-for-26) with two homers against Sale, who was done two innings later after throwing 116 pitches. Sale struck out the side in two innings, though one of which was that pivotal fifth, where he also gave up three hits.

Relievers Jake Petricka and Daniel Webb gave up three runs in the final two innings. Not that it mattered.

The Sox hitters managed two hits in the first eight innings. They have now lost two Sale starts in a row and are 6-3 when he pitches.

It has been a while since his stint on the disabled list, but Sale said Thursday he's building up arm strength. His fastball was consistently around 94 mph, and his changeup was deadly.

"I'm pretty certain that he's going to be good the rest of the year," Ventura said.

We should hope so. Sale is the best thing going in Chicago until Bears training camp starts. Sox fans don't have to wait long to see him again at the Cell. He's slated to pitch against the San Francisco Giants on Wednesday. Many, many good seats available for the show.