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CHICAGO – Left-hander Chris Sale carried the White Sox’s postseason hopes on his shoulders when he took the mound Saturday.
By the time he exited the game, the Sox were sailing out of playoff contention. In what amounted to a must-win game, the offense no-showed and Sale couldn’t pitch out of the fourth inning in a demoralizing 10-4 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays.
“We stunk,” manager Robin Ventura said. “ … It's pretty simple. We did [stink]. We didn't hit.”
The Sox have been written off before during this stretch of nine losses in 11 games, but they’re running out of days to make up ground on the Detroit Tigers. Detroit extended its AL Central lead to two games with four remaining after it held off Minnesota for a 6-4 win.
“We have to win every game and hope that Detroit loses a couple,” said outfielder Alex Rios, who had the only two hits by a starter. “That’s what has to happen.”
Sale was as despondent as he’s ever been after his outing. He took the loss hard and blamed himself for putting the Sox (83-75) in a bad situation. Sale (17-8) lasted 3 1/3 innings in his shortest outing of the year and gave up five runs on seven hits.
“That was terrible. That was a disgrace,” Sale said. “For [Ventura] to say that we were terrible was probably putting that lightly. I did nothing to help the team win, put guys in positions that they shouldn't have been in. To go out and have your starter go three innings, that's a recipe for a disaster pretty much every time. Like I said before, just didn't do my job. Team needed me and I didn't pull it out for them. Just a frustrating day.”
Sale refused to blame his bad start on being tired, convinced there was “no chance” his command issues stemmed from a worn out arm. He stands at 192 innings pitched this season, far and away the most he's thrown in his professional career.
“I felt just as good as any time out,” Sale said. “I felt strong, just was all over the place. Just didn't throw strikes. Walked a lot of guys. Gave up hits at the wrong times and they capitalized on my mistakes. I just didn't do anything to help myself or help the team.”
Sale’s pitch selection suggested otherwise. He threw the fewest fastballs in any of his 29 starts this season (26 of his 82 pitches), which accounted for 31.7 percent of his pitches – below his season average of 37.5 percent.
Even more concerning, Sale did not get one Rays hitter to swing and miss when he threw a fastball. Four of Tampa Bay’s seven hits against Sale came off his fastball, including Jeff Keppinger’s three-run homer in the third inning that gave the Rays a 3-0 lead.
“When he doesn't locate, I think that was the biggest thing for him today,” Ventura said. “He was just not in the zone enough. It was just one of those, you don’t expect that out of him but it is late in the year and stuff can happen.
“I don’t know about the tear, but I think being tired, there’s some of that, he's in an area of being tired,” Ventura added. “But again, we're not throwing him out there thinking he's hurt or anything like that. It's a lot of innings and maybe being tired.”
The Rays (87-71) have a chance to deliver the decisive blow when Cy Young contender David Price starts today’s home season finale. A Sox loss with a Tigers win would require the Sox to sweep the Indians in Cleveland, and Detroit would have to be swept in Kansas City to force a tie atop the division.
• Meghan Montemurro covers the White Sox and Cubs for Shaw Media. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org