Sale pitches White Sox to Opening Day win
Lefty allows seven hits, strikes out seven over 7 2/3; Flowers homers
CHICAGO -- It was just one late afternoon in chilly Chicago, one well-played game between the White Sox and Royals before an Opening Day sellout of 39,012 at U.S. Cellular Field.
In the scheme of a 162-game season, Monday's 1-0 victory for the South Siders hardly stands as even the most remote sample size.
But if the White Sox succeed and surprise some people in 2013, much like they did for most of 2012, then this victory, earned through pitching and defense, serves as the prototype.
"I hope we get more than one run every game," said a smiling White Sox catcher Tyler Flowers, whose homer leading off the fifth against James Shields held up as the game's lone run.
"Pitching is going to take us a long way, like it did today," added White Sox closer Addison Reed, who used a solid mix of fastballs and sliders in the ninth to strand Eric Hosmer on second and pick up his first save.
Matt Thornton's key strikeout of Mike Moustakas with runners on first and third and two outs in the eighth joined with Reed's ninth to raise the South Siders' Opening Day record to 59-54, give them an 11-1 mark in their last 12 home openers and produce their first Game 1 shutout since 2010. But in regard to the pitching part of this formula, this game was all about Chris Sale.
Sale harnessed the emotions of making his first Opening Day trip to the mound by allowing just seven hits and one walk over 7 2/3 innings, while striking out seven. He threw 72 of his 104 pitches for strikes, getting into a nice game-long rhythm with Flowers.
The only real trouble spot for Sale came in the third inning, when the Royals loaded the bases with one out. Sale proceeded to strike out Billy Butler on four pitches, using his slider as the knockout punch, and then retired Mike Moustakas on a popup to second baseman Gordon Beckham.
"That was fun, it was exciting. It was everything I thought it would be and more," Sale said. "I did a real good job of kind of collecting myself and not getting too amped up too early or too late and it ended up being a pretty good day."
"Oh, man, dynamic pitching on both sides all day," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "Sale was phenomenal, James Shields was phenomenal. The difference in the game was one high changeup. That was it."
Defense in this winning equation came from two double plays turned by the White Sox, and Beckham saving a potential rally in the seventh after Hosmer opened the frame with a single. Lorenzo Cain lined a shot headed toward right-center, but Beckham's leap toward the middle of the infield snared the drive and held Hosmer at first. Jeff Francoeur, who singled in his first two at-bats, hit into an inning-ending double play started by third baseman Jeff Keppinger.
"Saved the game right there. That was huge," said Sale, who mentioned feeling more relaxed after Beckham made the play. "That's what you come to expect from Gordon. He has been so solid and unbelievable at second. I call him the maniac."
"Teams that don't play good defense, you just keep giving opportunities," White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. "For us, we can't give opportunities. This is a good team we're playing. Pitching and defense are going to be key and finding a way to score some runs."
Flowers represented the White Sox scoring against Shields, who struck out six over six innings. That high changeup referred to by Yost traveled 389 feet and into the left-center-field stands.
As the man on the spot to replace A.J. Pierzynski's eight-year run behind the plate, there couldn't have been a better way to start.
"Definitely probably going to be one of the most special games I've had and probably will have," Flowers said.
There's no Opening Day victory without Flowers' blast. The way he worked with Sale, though, was the most important factor Monday and will be for a team that fancies itself a playoff contender.
Sure, one game does not tell the story of the season's first week, let alone the season. But remember this mantra: If the 2013 White Sox want to make an impact, they primarily will do so on the mound and in the field.
"We are going to be fundamentally sound and those are things you have to do to win ballgames. We came out and did that to start the season today and we need to continue," Flowers said. "It looked like kind of what all the coaches preached to us from the start of last season."