'I think we're moving in the right direction," Sale said. "This team, it's not quixotic to make a playoff run for us [in 2015]. We're just fighting, working hard, trying to get to that ultimate goal."
Yes, quixotic. The best left-handed pitcher in the American League did say quixotic in his interview after beating the sinking A's, 1-0, on Thursday afternoon at U.S. Cellular Field.
Bryan Johnson, the White Sox video coordinator, selected that adjective as part of the "word of the start" game he's played with Sale throughout the season. They've tackled several other rarely used words -- among them juxtapose, repudiate, ameliorate, antithetic and cacophony -- and Sale refuses to be beaten by them.
So it is with lineups and opponents.
"He's good in big situations," White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. "It helps him along the way."
As a teenager growing up in Lakeland, Fla., Sale loved to watch a young Scott Kazmir pitch for the Rays, especially in that World Series season in 2008. He engaged Kazmir in an intriguing pitching duel on the final day of a four-game series, and everything was working.
When everything is working for Sale, that counts for more than with almost any pitcher in the Major Leagues. He's been so good in his three seasons as a starter that his teammates expect him to be excellent.
"You do," catcher Tyler Flowers said. "He competes so well. He does such a good job of just being consistent. There's still the occasional start where he just doesn't have it and we try and survive, give up three runs and say, 'We did OK with what we had today.' But most days you expect him to have good stuff. He has three weapons. I think the difference this year is we're throwing more changeups as well."
In handing Oakland its third one-run loss of the series, and seventh in its last nine games, Sale gave up only two hits (both Jed Lowrie singles), walked two and struck out nine.
"It feels like you're almost stepping into the box 0-2 against him, because he's got such great command of all three of his pitches," Lowrie said. "When he's got the velocity and command like he did today, he's going to be tough."
There wasn't a big crowd at U.S. Cellular, but those who were there booed Ventura loudly when he headed to the mound after a two-out walk of Alberto Callaspo moved put runners on first and second in the eighth inning. He was cheered when he walked back to the dugout alone, leaving Sale in to face Coco Crisp.
Ventura insisted afterward that he would have lifted Sale, even though he'd thrown only 105 pitches, if he had seemed overamped. But Sale calmly explained that he could execute Flowers' plan and protect the 1-0 lead.
"Those scenarios, that's when the game starts speeding up on you," Sale said. "It happens to everybody, and it can happen real quick. For me, just trying to slow it down."
Sale started Crisp with a slider, then reached back for 94- and 95-mph fastballs. He got a grounder to second baseman Carlos Sanchez on another slider, and then he watched from the dugout as rookie Jake Petricka earned his 13th save.
Sale, 25, has had nothing but success in the big leagues. He received AL Cy Young Award votes in 2012 (finishing sixth) and '13 (fifth), but he should be in the conversation even more this season. Time on the disabled list April-May will hurt Sale some, but he's 12-3 on a 66-80 team and is leading the AL with a 1.99 ERA.
"It's cool," Sale said of his ERA dropping so low. "I've said it a million times. I'm not a numbers guy. I don't care about any of that stuff -- the strikeouts, the ERA, whatever it is. There's one stat that matters. It's wins. As many times as we can get on that left column, the better off we are."
While Sale might not care, it's worth noting he trails only the Mariners' Felix Hernandez in WHIP (0.92) and WAR (5.9). When you look at the difference in a team's record with one starter on the mound, Sale hasn't been as impactful as the Tigers' Max Scherzer and the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw the last three years, but he stacks up favorably to Justin Verlander, Hernandez and almost everyone else.
Sale has three starts left this season, probably (Ventura hasn't set the schedule), and they could determine who wins the AL Central. Two are against the Royals (assuming he starts the last day of the season) and one will be against the Tigers.
Can Sale flummox a couple more contenders? Will he be indefatigable until the end? Or will Sale suddenly, out of nowhere, appear supercilious?