Sale did not want to get whacked around by the Indians on Tuesday night, trust me. But allowing six runs in 3 1/3 innings, and reminding all of us that he's just as mortal as he's always been, probably wasn't the worst thing that could have happened to him and the White Sox.
Sale's 9-0 start with an American League-leading ERA through nine starts had drawn more attention to him than anything he'd done so far in a career that's been remarkable for a long time now. He's had other great stretches, but none of them were right out of the gate. So in some ways, Sale was being celebrated as if he'd just come on the scene.
Hardly. The guy has been an All-Star in each of his four previous seasons as a starter. Sale is gonna bounce back from the 6-2 loss to Cleveland just fine.
As for the loss, you knew Sale wouldn't make excuses, and he didn't.
"Just chalk it up as a bad night,'' Sale said. "I stunk. I was bad. I was terrible. Embarrassing, quite honestly.''
Sale needed 89 pitches to get 10 outs, and 43 of those came in the third inning. He was fine physically -- which is why White Sox manager Robin Ventura said he didn't get a reliever up in the bullpen during that long inning -- and should hit the mound on Sunday in Kansas City like a man on a mission.
It's the same mission Sale has been on since he started his workouts last November -- to take down the Royals in the AL Central and experience postseason baseball for the first time. He never lost that focus, but his perfect season was making him the story, not his team.
Had Sale beaten the Tribe with one of his normal outings, he'd have become the first White Sox pitcher to win each of his first 10 starts since Cicotte, of the infamous Black Sox, in 1919. Cicotte got to 12-0 that season, and for bonus points, he even tossed in two relief appearances between starts.
More impressively for Sale, he'd have become the first Major League pitcher to start 10-0 over 10 starts with a sub-2.00 ERA since Cicotte. This is special stuff we've been watching the past few weeks, no question.
It's got to be cool to be on the verge of doing something that hadn't been done in 97 years, just as it was for Sale to break Ed Walsh's strikeout record last season and to become the first pitcher since Sal Maglie in 1952 to start 9-0 with a sub-2.00 ERA.
Now, Sale is 9-1 with a 2.26 ERA. That's not too bad, especially when you can hand the league ERA leadership to a teammate.
Jose Quintana is 5-3 with a 1.98 ERA entering Wednesday's start against the Indians, who have taken two of three games in the series to move to only 1 1/2 games behind the White Sox.
Much has been made of Sale's maturation as a pitcher, and rightly so. He's been working to get quick, soft contact from hitters rather than piling up strikeouts, and that had allowed him to get deeper into games than in previous seasons. Sale has already had three complete-game victories, only three fewer than he'd managed in 116 career starts entering this season.
"That's something he didn't have before,'' Ventura said. "He's been close to doing it a few times, but every time we felt like we were really stretching to [let him finish games]. I think he's liking the idea of it, where he's at, what he's capable of, the confidence of that, what it means to us.''
Sale came out Tuesday looking more like his old self than a new one. His first three pitches to Rajai Davis were at 96, 97 and 97 mph, and he wound up throwing 10 fastballs at 95-plus in the first two innings. Sale's fastball had averaged only 93.7 when he beat the Astros last Thursday.
"He was up there velocity-wise. This was uncharacteristic for him. Everything seemed a little harder than normal," said Ventura. "His changeup was probably a little harder than it's been in the past. The separation wasn't quite as good tonight … This was definitely an off night for him. The best part was it wasn't anything physical.''
Sale had five strikeouts the first time around the order, but he lost his mojo after a two-out, 10-pitch walk to Jose Ramirez in the third inning. A Francisco Lindor single and Mike Napoli triple -- which was just out of Austin Jackson's reach -- gave Cleveland a 2-1 lead and they'd make it 6-1 by the time Ventura came out to get Sale in the fourth.
The third inning, which also included a nine-pitch at-bat ending in a Juan Uribe single, was prolonged agony for those in the White Sox dugout, but Ventura bit the bullet through it all, never warming a reliever.
You can't blame Ventura for having faith in Sale. He believed all along that his lefty would get himself straightened out, but it never happened.
We'll see what happens next time out. And the time after that, and the time after that.
Sale has prepared himself to go the distance, and that includes some starts in October. He'll need Jose Abreu at his best to get there, and the one bright spot Tuesday was that the first baseman went 3-for-4 with a pair of doubles, increasing his OPS from .696 to .724.
Abreu's tough start to the season, which caused Ventura to drop him to fifth in the order, is a cause for concern for the White Sox.
Sale having an off night is just part of the landscape. He went to work in the video room in the late innings looking for ways to get better before Sunday. Sale thought he found a few, too. It's always about the next game with him, not the one he just pitched. That's part of his greatness.