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Sale sizzles in return from DL; White Sox top Yanks

The SportsXchange

CHICAGO -- Chris Sale's return to the mound was nearly perfect.

After spending five weeks on the disabled list because of a flexor muscle strain in his left arm, Sale retired the first 17 batters he faced Thursday night against the New York Yankees, leading the Chicago White Sox to a 3-2 win in the opener of a weekend series at U.S. Cellular Field.

The Yankees, who scored twice in the ninth off Chicago closer Ronald Belisario to make it interesting, managed just one hit against Sale (4-0). The ace left-hander needed just 86 pitches to strike out 10 in a dominating 86-pitch, six-inning performance. He didn't issue a walk.

The only thing that didn't work in his favor was a pitch count designed to prevent him from throwing more than 100 pitches.

"He would not have thrown a perfect game, I can tell you that," White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. "He was fantastic tonight. He was probably as sharp as we've seen him, but we knew he wasn't going to go nine innings. But he got us to a point where we could bring some guys in.

"Other than that, he was fantastic. He felt great. I know he was a little disappointed he didn't get to go longer, but you just stick with the plan."

Working within that plan, Sale was wickedly efficient. He struck out the side in order to start the game and did it again in the third.

Combined with his previous start, a career-high 127-pitch outing April 17 against the Boston Red Sox that landed him on the DL, Sale retired 19 consecutive hitters before New York left fielder Zoilo Almonte broke up the perfect game with a two-out single in the sixth.

"I don't think I've ever been more excited to give up a hit in my life," Sale quipped. "I knew I was done after that sixth, and Robin said the same thing, he goes, 'You picked a bad night to do something like that.' It was all in fun, just joking around, but it was good to be back out there. I enjoyed it."

Chicago relievers Zach Putnam and Daniel Webb followed with one perfect inning apiece. Belisario earned his second save despite allowing two runs on two hits and a walk, and he needed a favorable called third strike against Alfonso Soriano to end the game with two runners aboard. The pitch was up in the strike zone, and Soriano thought it was inside, as well.

"The umpires, they have a tough job," Soriano said. "It's not easy to be (an) umpire, but that ball is up and in. We (watched the) replay, just to make sure that pitch (was) a ball, but you know, nothing you can do about it. Just, bad call and nothing (you) can do."

Offensively for Chicago (24-25), center fielder Adam Eaton led the way by going 2-for-3 with an RBI. White Sox left fielder Alejandro De Aza knocked in a run, and first baseman Adam Dunn added a two-out, RBI single in the eighth to give the White Sox a 3-0 lead.

For the 12th time in 64 career starts, Sale struck out 10 or more in a game, tying him with former White Sox starter Alex Fernandez for fourth in franchise history. Sale's 10th strikeout retired Yankees center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury to end the sixth just one hitter after Almonte's single.

"When he pitches, you can't be an underdog," said designated hitter Paul Konerko, who doubled and scored in Chicago's two-run second inning. "There are some guys out there where you feel like it's an even match, but he's up to that level now. I don't feel that there's anybody he could go up against where we feel like we're behind the eight-ball going in (like) we're underdogs. He was throwing the ball better tonight. ... Just from the side, the velocity looked like it was up there tonight."

The performance was in line with three previous starts against the Yankees for Sale, who came into the game 2-0 in those outings with a 1.21 ERA, 25 strikeouts and a .163 opponents' batting average in 22 1/3 innings.

The victory for the White Sox also continued a trend against New York (24-22). After sweeping two consecutive series played in Chicago in 2012 and 2013, the White Sox have won seven straight games against the Yankees at U.S. Cellular Field.

Overshadowed by Sale was a solid outing for David Phelps (1-1), who started for New York and allowed just two runs. He took the loss despite scattering five hits and striking out eight in seven innings.

"I knew I had to put up zeros because he wasn't going to give anything up," Phelps said of dueling with Sale. "I mean, that's one of the better outings I've seen out of anybody. You just know you've got to be that much better going the rest of the way just to give us a chance to win."

It didn't take long for the White Sox to give Sale a 2-0 lead. The bottom of the order got it started in the second against Phelps, with back-to-back doubles by Konerko and De Aza scoring one run and Eaton plating De Aza with a single.

Sale took it from there, coasting through the rest of his start to give his team a big emotional boost.

"It's good just to have him back around," Konerko said. "Obviously they were smart with pitch count and all that, and careful, but with him, you felt like that was one he probably would have closed out. ... It looked like the ball was coming out of his hand really good."

NOTES: White Sox GM Rick Hahn said rookie 1B Jose Abreu, who is on the disabled list, will continue wearing a walking boot on his injured left ankle through the weekend and be re-evaluated next week. Hahn expects Abreu to be ready to return after the minimum 15-day absence. ... Chicago manager Robin Ventura said Belisario would get the majority of save opportunities after RHP Matt Lindstrom went on the DL for an ankle injury. Lindstrom will have surgery Friday to repair a torn left ankle tendon sheath, and he is expected to miss about three months. ... The White Sox made room for LHP Chris Sale to come off the 15-day disabled list Thursday by designating RHP Frank Francisco for assignment. ... Yankees RHP Michael Pineda is cleared to throw against live hitters Saturday while rehabbing from a right shoulder injury in Tampa, Fla. Pineda went on the 15-day DL on May 6 after he got hurt throwing a simulated start while serving a 10-game suspension. ... Girardi started C John Ryan Murphy against Sale instead of left-handed-hitting Brian McCann. Murphy went 0-for-2 before McCann entered as a pinch hitter.
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