Chris Sale and the White Sox triumphed over Yu Darvish and the Texas Rangers, clearly such a performance produced a night of easy pleasures.
First, any semblance of the pitcher's duel was erased early. Control problems and a pop-up misread by Josh Hamilton flung Yu Darvish into a 1st inning ordeal that he needed to strike out Dayan Viciedo with the bases loaded to escape with just a run. Sale countered immediately with a sample of the diminished velocity and command of his secondary stuff that would dog him all night.
He hit leadoff man Ian Kinsler, forgot about him at 1st base and allowed him to steal, and eventually let him score on a terrifyingly long sac fly. But even with no one on and two outs, Sale couldn't use his slider to any effect, and three-straight ugly at-bats were capped off by an opposite field three-run blast by Nelson Cruz, putting the Rangers up 4-1 after one inning.
Things didn't get aesthetically much better for Sale--he missed spots, kept throwing high-80's fastballs--but also threw strikes at a high rate, and thanks to Josh Hamilton and a growing feel for his slider, he got into the 7th inning with no further damage.
In the mean time, the Sox rallied. Kevin Youkilis drew the deficit to within one with a massive two-run shot to dead center, Alejandro De Aza rewarded the bottom of the order for their efforts with a two-run single to put the Sox ahead, and an insurance run was acquired the old-fashioned way...with Adam Dunn stealing second, advancing to third on an errant throw, and scoring on a fielder's choice.
Then came the bottom of the 7th. After Sale gave up a leadoff walk, a Craig Gentry pop-up drew De Aza and Alexei Ramirez into a gruesome full-speed collision. De Aza initially looked like he popped out his shoulder, and Alexei Ramirez was holding his wrist, but the latter stayed in the game while Alejando looked worlds better after five minutes...even as he was walking off the field.
Viciedo scooping the ball up and making a force out at 2nd loomed large, as the Rangers would later load the bases, score a run on a force out, and fall short of tying the game only because a scorched Michael Young liner found Alex Rios' glove.
With enough tension to last a week already accumulated, the top of the 9th featured Ron Washington trying to squeeze too many innings out of Alexi Ogando, who was tagged with an RBI double from Rios, and a two-run homer from Ramirez to seal matters up.
Chris Sale - 6.1 IP, 6 H, 4 ER, 2 BB, 6 K, HR, 109 pitches - That stat line doesn't look that bad. This is remarkable.
Kevin Youkilis - 1 for 3, HR, 2 BB, 2 RBI, 2 R - There's something to be said for working through extremely belabored at-bats, and cranking fastballs 415 feet out to center.
Adam Dunn - 1 for 3, 2 BB, SB, K - Added two runs to the board with his legs. Yes, that's correct.
Alex Rios - 1 for 4, 2B, 3 RBI, R - He was 0 for 2 with 2 RBI before the 9th inning.
Alexei Ramirez - 2 for 5, HR, 2 RBI - Granted, Alexei will be able to jump on hanging sliders when he's 72 years old, it was still nice to see some power out of him.
Gordon Beckham - 2 for 4, 2B, 2 RBI - Kickstarted the all-important 4th inning rally. It's always fun when he helps.
With the bases loaded, a run already in, the Sox nursing a one-run lead with two runners on and and two out, Matt Thornton had to face consecutive right-handers Adrian Beltre and Michael Young.
Confidence was not high.
Considering the potential disasters on the table, Thornton not being able to induce Beltre to chase and walking the bases loaded was a fine result. Michael Young followed it up by scorching a line drive right into the glove of Alex Rios. With that, the Sox were out of a tight situation, without the time to contemplate whether they deserved to be.
Things Would Be Different If...
Two things, one borne out of the other. Adam Dunn amazingly added two runs with his legs. Taking advantage of reliever Alexi Ogando's slow delivery in the 7th, he grabbed a surprise steal, and advanced to third when the throw went into center field, eventually scoring. In the 9th, Dunn scored all the way from first base on an Alex Rios double, as an aggressive send from Joe McEwing prompted the Rangers to botch their relay.
That double, and a follow-up Ramirez home run was brought on by Ron Washington attempting to use Ogando for a third inning, and getting diminishing results for his gambit.
Given the horrors the Sox endured as Sale labored through six and a third, and De Aza left the game with what is still being called a bruised wrist, losing would have an unwelcome extra kick in the pants.
As it is, the Sox have now taken the season series from the best team, and earned a game and a half advantage over Detroit.
Easy, right? Hopefully a third of the lineup won't be missing in action on Saturday.
Team Record: 54-45, 1.5 games up