Sale leaves Yankees baffled

CHICAGO -- Ichiro Suzuki may not be the Ichiro Suzuki of recent years.

Suzuki’s bat just isn’t as threatening as it used to be, and his numbers are proof of that. But while Suzuki isn’t getting on base as much these days, he continues to be one of the game’s toughest hitters to strike out.

In his 495 at-bats this season prior to Wednesday, Suzuki had struck out 45 times and had just five games in which he had gone down on multiple occasions. As for his entire career, only four pitchers had struck him out three times in a game.

On Wednesday, Chicago White Sox pitcher Chris Sale accomplished what few have and joined that exclusive group of pitchers who have humbled the great Suzuki. Sale struck out Suzuki swinging all three times they matched up Wednesday, and it was just part of Sale’s overall dominance as he allowed three hits, one run, one walk and struck out 13 in the White Sox’s 2-1 win over the New York Yankees at U.S. Cellular Field.

For the White Sox, it was nothing new from Sale, who improved to 15-4 and lowered his ERA to 2.65. They’ve become used to witnessing the 23-year-old dismantle lineups with his devastating slider and the ever-changing velocity on his fastball.

Wednesday marked the fourth time Sale had double-digit strikeouts and 15th time he held an opponent to two runs or less this season. He has struck out 150 hitters and walked 36 in 153 innings this season.

<>p>Aside from Derek Jeter knocking out his third home run in as many days, White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski couldn’t fault Sale for anything he delivered on Wednesday.

“Other than that, he was down all night,” Pierzynski said. “He had a great slider. He was super aggressive. He had a good changeup going. He moved the ball in and out. He kept guys off of it. He threw it high when he wanted it high and low when he wanted it low. He just pitched great.”

But while Sale has had such outings in the past, White Sox manager Robin Ventura did believe doing it against the Yankees was something special.

“We always feel like we have a great chance to win when Chris goes out there,” Ventura said. “I think this was one of those game that he’s going up against a lineup he’s probably seen a lot of these guys before he was even drafted (in 2010.) Great game by him. It really was.”

The Yankees concurred.

“He’s funky,” said Jeter, who went 1-for-3 against him. “He’s got a funky motion. He’s especially tough on lefties. He throws hard. His fastball moves, a lot of off-speed pitches, which is surprising considering how hard he throws. He can overpower you when he needs to, but we didn’t get much going off of him at all.”

Mark Teixeira said, “I never faced him before. It’s like facing a closer three times. The guy throws 95-96 from a tough angle, very tall, three plus-pitches. It’s difficult to face a guy like that. There’s a reason why his numbers are so good.”

Nick Swisher said, “he’s a guy that throws a fastball in the 95-97 range, but he throws a lot of hybrids. He can throw that first pitch in there at 91, then he’ll throw a slider in there at 82, then bump it up to 86. He throws a lot of pitches off, a lot of different break off of three pitches, fastball, slider change…he uses that changeup effectively. He’s a pretty good pitcher. The numbers don’t lie.”

So what was the trick to Sale creating such praise from the Yankees? He said pretending they weren’t the Yankees.

“You come in and all that stuff is kind of running through your head,” Sale said. “But at the same time, I try not to let that get to me. No matter what the team, who the batter is, I still got to execute pitches and do my job.”

And his job was done on Wednesday. Just ask Suzuki.