After a week of rapturous highs and lows, in an intense series with Detroit that featured both playoff implications and atmosphere, the Sox were given a slightly different task Friday night - Go beat the last-place Twins with Chris Sale against their #12 starter. Oh, and Joe Mauer was out of the lineup too.
It was not the absolute easiest matchup ever, the Twins are better than their debacle of an April makes their record look; but it was a game that could be neatly won with a decent effort.
The White Sox gave a decent effort.
Everyone's favorite kid brother Chris Sale was there, and he did his revving up and revving down thing with his fastball. He sat in the low 90's most of the time, but his fastball could easily be summed up by one sequence in the 6th. Sale threw something straight that read 86 mph to Jamie Carroll in an at-bat that ended in a long, troubling flyout. Two batters later, he grabbed the first two strikes against Justin Morneau with 95 mph heat.
In between all that, no one on a Minnesota could get a read on Sale's big, slow slurve, his changeup was a reliable strikeout pitch, and Kevin Youkilis and Alexei Ramirez provided outstanding defense behind him. It wasn't a good scoring environment for the Twins, and they did not do much to alter it. Their bats stayed silent through six innings against Sale, two innings versus Brett Myers (punctuated by a beautiful diving catch from Alejandro De Aza), and one inning from Matt Thornton.
So the Twins didn't score, and that should tell you a lot about how this game went. But the Sox faced a pitcher too--his name was Esmerling Vazquez and he was deeply flawed. However, Vazquez was flawed in a way not particularly suited to the White Sox aggressive offense.
Vazquez could not throw strikes, but the Sox did not consistently challenge them to. Alex Rios sliced a double to right in the 2nd and scored on a groundout in the 2nd, and Vazquez managed to to walk the hack-tastic trio of A.J. Pierzynski, Rios, and Dayan Viciedo all in a row in the 4th to push in a run.
But he escaped from that jam with no further damage, and was an out away from a quality start when his control abandoned him completely (another Viciedo walk), and he was pulled for Kyle Waldrop.
Waldrop provided no such test of the White Sox patience. His strict policy of soft strikes allowed for a two-out RBI single to Ramirez to add another run to Vazquez's tally, a long solo home run to Kevin Youkilis in the next inning, and an RBI single to Rios to close his night. Mop-up man Luis Perdomo was a double-play away from a disastrous 9th, settling for a more mundane bases loaded sacrifice fly.
White Sox 6, Twins 0
Chris Sale - 6 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 5 K, 99 pitches - I worry about him more than anyone, but he's just fine. Look at that stat line! He's fiiiine.
Alex Rios - 2 for 3, 2B, RBI, R, BB - Given how cheesed I was at the White Sox approach most of the night, he had himself a really nice, measured game,
Kevin Youkilis - 1 for 3, HR, BB - His offense has been very homer-centric recently, which is just fine.
Dayan Viciedo - 1 for 2, 2 BB, 2 RBI - He still looked kinda bad, but was crucial in the first two runs scored,
Matt Thornton - IP, H, 0 R, 0 BB, 0 K - Just a quiet, easy inning from a guy we haven't seen for a while for some reason.
Everyone wants to see the White Sox manufacture runs these days. Well, in the 2nd inning they went and did it just to do it.
Alex Rios showed his discipline by pushing an outside fastball to the right-center gap for a double. A.J. Pierzynski overcame a long at-bat hampered by his impatience to keep the ball on the right side, and push Rios to third on a flyout. And for the run, there was the 2012 Rios on display again; busting hard on contact to score on a groundout, even with the infield in.
It was gorgeous and old-school, and when it was over, they had one run, two out, and no baserunners.
Things Would Be Different If...
Joe Mauer is no good against Sale, so his presence could not have changed much. If anything, the Sox could have hammered Vazquez more. Some shaky defense by Youkilis on two of the line shots he snared could have made Sale's night a bit more interesting, and De Aza saved a double for Myers, but no. No, no, no, no. I'm going to say that this night could not have gone differently.
Ideally, Sale might be used for some purpose besides giving the Sox something around a 85% chance of winning, but he was there anyway, and everything went perfectly fine to maintain a one-game lead. Everyone should try to get some sleep.
Team Record: 77-66, 1 game up