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Chris Sale refuses to quit on crumbling White Sox

CHICAGO -- On a crushing night for the Chicago White Sox, the leadership skills of hard-luck staff ace Chris Sale shined through the darkness.

Sale went out Friday and struck out 14 Texas Rangers batters on a night when the White Sox needed a dominant outing. He just didn’t get any support from his team’s offense or bullpen.

A ninth-inning blown save from closer David Robertson resulted in a 2-1 Rangers victory, which meant the White Sox’s losing streak reached a season-high eight games and their record fell a season-high 10 games under .500 at 28-38.

Yet when asked if he feels like he has to pitch a shutout to win, Sale stopped the question right in its tracks. Sale not only knows how to take charge of opposing offenses, he can handle leading questions as well.

“Easy now; that’s kind of a crappy question to ask, really,” Sale said. “You think I’m going to say something bad about one of my teammates, you’re dead wrong. We have a bunch of fighters in here. We have guys that come in here every single day and play as hard as they can, plain and simple. Sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn’t.

“Tonight it didn’t and it hasn’t for a few games. But that doesn’t mean that we’re doing anything different or going to point a finger at anybody. We’re a team, we’re a family and we’re going to move forward. This is going to stop. It is. We’re going to win a game. And from that point forward, we’re going to win some more games.”

The reality is that a lackluster offense is killing the White Sox this season, but Sale isn’t about to be the one who passes judgment. He’s had his troubles too, and it wouldn’t have done anybody any good if teammates were critiquing the nine runs he gave up in an outing to the Minnesota Twins on April 30.

Sale’s verbal hug to his teammates isn’t going to help Adam Eaton get on base more or get Jose Abreu to start hitting with more consistent power or get Adam LaRoche on a hot streak. But his instant eye roll as soon as the question was asked showed that one of the team’s primary leaders hasn’t called it quits when the walls appear to be crumbling around him.

Sale first showed his willingness to fight with his domination of the Rangers. The three-time All-Star wasn’t about to show any sympathy to a Rangers team that didn’t arrive to their Chicago hotel from the West Coast until 7:15 Friday morning.

Rangers starter Colby Lewis surely wasn’t showing any sympathy to a White Sox team that ranks toward the bottom of the American League in most major offensive categories, with a manager in Robin Ventura who is being crushed by a vocal chunk of the fan base.

Yes, the defeat stung, but even so Sale had struck out 12-plus batters for his fifth consecutive start, something that only Pedro Martinez and Randy Johnson had done before him. He also became the first pitcher with six consecutive games of 10-plus strikeouts since Johnson in 2002.

If Sale wanted to pat himself on the back, he could have. After all, both Martinez and Johnson will be inducted into the Hall of Fame this summer in Cooperstown, New York.

In what is rapidly becoming a throwaway season, Sale could have at least hung his black White Sox cap on those achievements. But he wasn’t going there either.

“Those guys are the best at what they did,” Sale said of Martinez and Johnson. “It’s an honor to get my name mentioned with them, but it’s something more for you guys and friends and family. I’m here for one reason and that’s winning ballgames. All the other stuff is more of a distraction than anything, really.”

To Robertson’s credit, he faced the music too, it’s just that his comments were in more of a repentant nature.

“Sale did exactly what you want an ace to do in a situation like this,” Robertson said. “We lost seven straight and he went out and threw eight incredible innings. I don't even know how many he punched out, but it was a lot. I went out there and stunk it up and gave it up tonight. It was a poor performance on me. I should have been there to pick the team up. We needed this one really bad. This one hurt.”

Leadership and credibility help, but obviously more is needed to increase the number in the win column. With as bad as the White Sox are playing overall and with how disappointing this season has been, somebody still believes.

Even if it’s too late for that flicker to ignite a fire, Sale’s ability to remain proud might be his biggest achievement of the night.

“Yeah, I mean it’s tough, but you can almost guarantee that’s not going to happen too many times with [Robertson] on the mound,” Sale said. “He’s one of the best in the game … for sure, no doubt. It’s tough. Those are the hardest three outs to get. That’s why it takes a certain person to do that and he’s definitely the guy.

“It’s just, you know, it happens.”