Slider's with this type of delivery are almost by default a handful for lefties. Sale is good enough to dominate righties with it as well. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
It wasn’t a perfect game or even a no-hitter, but if you like pitching, this was special to watch. Matt Moore went seven innings and Chris Sale went seven and a third. Together, they struck 25 of the 53 batters they faced; Moore with 10 strikeouts, Sale with 15. They each allowed only five batters to reach base. Luckily, Managers Maddon and Ventura were able to keep the two hurlers from having any time alone together, or they might have decided to form a third team and dominate the world.
Sale was the more impressive of the two, with his fifteen strikeouts. He throws a fastball that can reach the high 90s and a changeup with some good sink, but his real weapon is a sweeping slider that, combined with his three-quarters delivery ends up in a completely different horizontal area code than it began. Lefties, as expected, stood no chance against it. Righties didn’t fare much better. Sale worked it down on the back foot of righties for a swinging strike (Rodriguez, three times), and also backdoored it so that the Rays' righties completely gave up only to watch it sale easily over the plate (Upton). It was good enough that even when batters did know they had to swing, they still missed (Zobrist), even though backdoor sliders aren’t usually a whiff-inducing pitch. Of the three major reliever-to-starter transformations going on this year (Daniel Bard and Neftali Feliz are the others), Sale is easily the most successful so far.
So yes, Sale was fantastic. But the Rays did not put up much of a fight. Knowing that his three lefty sluggers, Pena, Joyce, and Scott, would be largely neutralized by Sale’s lefty-killing ways, Maddon gave them the day off (sort of – they all came on late in the game, but to no avail). With Longoria and Jennings out, today’s lineup was Zobrist and the Replacement Levels (the name of Juliana’s backup band?). Zobrist did try. In the fourth inning he roped a high fastball to left field for a single, and then promptly stole second. Two batters later, Lobaton, just off the disabled list and DHing for hopefully the only time ever, knocked him in with a line drive single to left.
That was all the Rays would get, though, and in the sixth inning, a single from Beckham and an Adam Dunn home run (he's not done) that rattled up against the back wall of the right field seats gave the White Sox everything they would need.
Aside from that, there really wasn’t much to see. I thought that Sale’s command faltered in the seventh inning as his pinch count rose, but the Rays were unable to take advantage of a Lobaton leadoff walk. Sale came back out in the eighth to get Rich Thompson (Joe Maddon’s sacrifice to the god of lefty-killers), and the Sox’ bullpen slammed the door shut.
I feel way worse after writing about this game than I did while watching it. The bats might have been lacking, but as a baseball fan, masterful pitching performances can be such a pleasure to watch. Happy Memorial Day everyone.