Time will show if Sale can top his two-hit, nine-strikeout complete game in the White Sox 1-0 victory over the Rays on Friday at Tropicana Field. But this effort will remain noteworthy. The hard-throwing ace produced his second career shutout, following a one-hit gem against the Angels on May 12, 2013.
"He just seemed to be on his game," White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. "I think throwing strikes early in counts, too -- you get a guy like him, and you can kind of see the strategy of getting after it early. … Just a great job by him."
After allowing a one-out single to center field by Desmond Jennings in the second inning, Sale retired 16 consecutive batters until Steve Pearce singled on a line drive to left field in the seventh, before the game took a scary turn.
After Jennings reached on an error, a foul ball off the bat of Steven Souza Jr. struck a woman near the Rays' first-base dugout. Visibly concerned, Souza went into the stands as the emergency workers tended to the injured fan, who was conscious and talking when she was carried out on a stretcher.
The scary moment came three innings after Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier and second baseman Logan Forsythe collided in the outfield, forcing both starters out of the game.
The incident with the fan shook up Sale as well.
"I feel bad," Sale said. "That's tough. It's part of it. I think Major League Baseball is trying to do what they can to protect fans, but that's just a tough situation right there. I almost felt that when it happened. I just feel so bad for the individual and the family. I just hope for the best."
In the ninth, Sale served up a deep fly ball to Brandon Guyer, but it landed safely in Melky Cabrera's glove for the second out.
"Any time you come down here at the start of a series, you want to set the tone," Sale said. "When you get that first one, it makes it a little easier going forward for the next guy.
"Just throwing strikes and throwing quality strikes early, trying to make weak contact. … So you just make good of that and try to get as far as you can."
Sale, a native of nearby Lakeland, Fla., said he played before about 100 friends and family Friday night. He had struggled against the Rays at times in the past, posting a 2-4 record with a 4.62 ERA in eight career appearances (six starts) against Tampa Bay.
To the hard-throwing left-hander, the familiar faces in the stands Friday provided comfort.
"I've got a lot of friends, a lot of family coming out," Sale said. "So I always try to do well for them."
He did just that. In the ninth, the White Sox rewarded him when Cabrera knocked a two-out RBI single, scoring Jimmy Rollins from second base.
"He's a great pitcher, one of the best," Cabrera said through a translator. "We want to win every game that he's on the mound. … It's special for us when he's pitching, especially on a day like that."