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Sloppy Chicago White Sox thumped behind Chris Sale

CHICAGO -- While Monday's miscue-filled defeat to the Tampa Bay Rays seemed to be a new low point, the Chicago White Sox somehow managed to top that with an 11-3 defeat Tuesday.

Staff ace Chris Sale was tagged for seven earned runs for the second consecutive start, the first time in his career he has allowed seven runs to score in consecutive outings.

That would have been bad enough had the last play of his outing not turned into a symbol of how disappointing and frustrating the 2015 season has been. It would seem hard to reach new low points for a team that is now 50-55 on the season.

That sixth-inning play started with some bad luck, as Kevin Kiermaier's bases-loaded bloop single fell untouched in center field to allow a run to score. But it turned ugly in a hurry.

Because all runners had advanced a base and were staying put, center fielder Adam Eaton lobbed the ball home toward catcher Tyler Flowers. As the ball went from a bounce to a slow roll, though, it squirted right through Flowers' legs. And Sale was nowhere to be seen backing up the play behind home plate, staying near the mound instead.

The turn of events allowed Asdrubal Cabrera to score what might have been the worst run the White Sox have allowed in a season full of runs scored against them.

"I've seen worse," manager Robin Ventura said. "There's always worse. But that's just stuff we work on. We've been doing that since spring training, so definitely clean that up. That didn't cost us the game tonight."

No, what cost Chicago the game was a return to the White Sox of the first half, when offense was limited, defense was marginal-to-poor, and the pitching wasn't where it needed to be. Tuesday's game was a return to the Sale of April and May, when he was working his way into form after not having much of a spring training because of a fractured bone in his foot.

"It's bad," Sale said. "I really don't know what to say about it other than just I've been the weak link [the last] couple times out. I'm not leaving my team a chance to win; I'm not doing my job at all. It's tough. It sucks sitting in here for four innings watching what you've done just unravel and putting guys in situations they shouldn't be in. That's tough. It really sucks, honestly."

Ventura removed Sale from the game after 107 pitches, and the Rays continued to pile on from there. They turned that 5-1 lead into an 8-1 lead by the end of the inning, then added two more runs in the seventh, and one more in the ninth.

Not only did reliever Daniel Webb allow three inherited runners to score, he gave up back-to-back home runs in the seventh -- the fourth time this season the Rays had hit home runs in consecutive at-bats.

Sale had to watch the rest from the clubhouse.

The logical explanation is that Sale's historic run of double-digit strikeouts in eight consecutive games took its toll. The only other pitcher to match that feat was Pedro Martinez, who was just inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Sale threw as many as 125 pitches in a game during that streak and reached the 119 mark three times. If he is fatigued from that monster run it would make sense, but he refuses to make any excuses -- in typical Sale fashion.

"I feel fine; my arm feels good, my body feels good, I feel loose," Sale said. "It's just not showing up. I don't know what it is. If I knew what it was I'd definitely try to figure it out. Just bad. I'm just not making pitches when I need to make pitches. I'm not keeping the ball in the yard. It seems like I'm just throwing it over the fence for them, really. Like I said, it really stinks."

Sale gave up two home runs -- just the fourth time he has given up multiple home runs in an outing this season -- but the second time he has done it in his past four starts. Going back a shade further, it is the third time it has happened in Sale's past six outings.

Where Sale was fastball- and changeup-heavy early in the season, he was more slider- and changeup-oriented Tuesday night, and the Rays caught on to the pattern quickly.

"We were just trying to be aggressive," Kiermaier said. "He really didn't throw the fastball as much as I thought he was. He was throwing sliders and changeups and we all did a good job with handling what he threw at us tonight."

If Sale is feeling out of sorts, nobody was willing to say it.

"It's definitely tough, obviously, for him, the team, for me as well," Flowers said. "He puts a lot of trust in me every day he goes out there. It's tough to swallow with how good he is to not have the success we know he can have."

As for that play in the sixth inning when the White Sox couldn't stop a throw from rolling through the infield -- that one was also tough to swallow, as much as it was hard to watch.

"Obviously that ball has to be stopped by me," Flowers said. "As a team we didn't execute that how you're supposed to. Ultimately there's a ball trickling in. I haven't looked at it to see how that possibly happens. Yeah, not a very good job."