HOUSTON -- After allowing four runs in the first three innings, White Sox lefty Chris Sale dominated the Astros the rest of the way, notching seven of his nine strikeouts in the next four innings en route to a 7-6 win Saturday at Minute Maid Park."He just finds a way
HOUSTON -- After allowing four runs in the first three innings, White Sox lefty Chris Sale dominated the Astros the rest of the way, notching seven of his nine strikeouts in the next four innings en route to a 7-6 win Saturday at Minute Maid Park.
"He just finds a way to finally find a groove," White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. "Once he got the lead, you knew he was going to be able to extend it and get through it."
"I just felt like I was a little bit sharper with my command too," Sale said of his strong finish. "Throwing strikes where I wanted to throw strikes."
One of those strikes upended Astros center fielder Carlos Gomez, who struck a pose at home plate after falling down on a swing. And it wasn't the only unusual occurence at home in the game, as White Sox right fielder Adam Eatontried unsuccessfully to hurdle Houston catcher Evan Gattis.
White Sox designated hitter Dioner Navarro drove in four runs, including a two-run, two-out single with the bases loaded in the fifth inning off Astros starter Doug Fister to put his team ahead, 5-4. Fister was rocked for five runs, nine hits and five walks in 4 2/3 innings.
Houston took a 4-2 lead with some small ball in the bottom of the third, but Sale's performance and a hot day from the White Sox bats were ultimately too much to overcome, as both teams hit the halfway point over .500 (Astros 43-38, White Sox 41-40). The win is Sale's 14th of the season, one away from tying the record for most American League wins before the All-Star break since 1990.
Trailing, 7-4, the Astros tacked on a run in the eighth and got a pinch-hit, solo homer from rookie A.J. Reed in the ninth -- the first of his career -- but it wasn't enough.
"They put up some pretty good at-bats and got some key hits," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "That wasn't really the game anybody expected with Fister against Sale, but this game will show you some things. I'm proud of our guys for going out and continue to battle. We had some pretty good at-bats at the end and made it pretty interesting, but just one run short."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Navarro nails it: In his first start of the season at designated hitter, Navarro drove in four runs. He tripled home two in the second off of Fister, matching his single-season high with two triples, and then with two outs and the bases loaded in the fifth, singled home the go-ahead runs as Fister's final hitter faced.
"It's not my first time DH-ing. I did it quite a bit the last few years with the Blue Jays," said Navarro, who DH-ed 32 games for the Blue Jays over the past two years. "It worked out for us today, so I'm happy." More >
Small-ball scoring: The Astros chipped away at Sale throughout the third inning, thanks in part to a bunt single from Jake Marisnick and a squeeze bunt from Marwin Gonzalez. Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa followed Gonzalez's bunt with a pair of RBI singles, and the Astros put themselves in a good position to win with a 4-2 lead after three innings.
"We did a lot right that inning," Hinch said. "We had to manufacture some runs. … It was important for us to do that. Also, our baserunning was really good that inning. We took an extra 90 feet a couple times. … That type of awareness is a good sign for us against a good pitcher." More >
Rough day on the bases: The White Sox might have won by a more comfortable margin if not for some glaring mistakes on the basepaths. Navarro was thrown out at home on J.B. Shuck's grounder to third baseman Luis Valbuena in the second, and Eaton was thrown out at home and third base. Eaton was nailed at home despite his high-jump attempt on Brett Lawrie's single to end the third, and then was nailed at third in the fifth after trying to advance on a pitch that bounced a few feet away from Gattis.
"The errors I made on the basepaths were tough, but it's good to have a team that picked me up and put us in the right direction," Eaton said. "My coaches have taught me better than what I showed. Team win, something we want to see, and [I'm] glad my errors didn't cost us the game. We always try to pick each other up, and today we did."
Fister struggles: Fister has been the Astros' most consistent pitcher all season, but he didn't look like it Saturday. The right-hander allowed nine hits and five of Chicago's runs, including three after the Astros took a 4-2 lead on Sale. He's lost his last two starts after winning seven straight entering last week.
"I gotta go out there and put up a zero," Fister said. "Didn't do that too many times tonight." More >
"He was fantastic. He continues to settle in nicely, and I'm not sure he could be more electrifying than how he was today. … That's definitely a dominating version of Michael." -- Hinch, on the effort from relief pitcher Michael Feliz
"He's a little guy that plays with big heart." -- Sale, on Altuve
"I can't remember the last time that happened. It's a lot of running for me." -- Navarro, on his two-run triple in the second
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Shuck's drive to right with two outs in the fourth marked the team's 15th straight solo home run, tying a franchise record originally set from Sept. 2-25, 1965 (STATS). Here is the solo breakdown during that stretch: Brett Lawrie 3, Shuck 3, Tim Anderson 2, Todd Frazier 2 and Tyler Saladino, Navarro, Alex Avila, Eaton and Melky Cabrera with one apiece.
When Sale struck out Valbuena for the second out of the fourth, he reached 1,000 innings pitched for his career in his fifth year as a starting pitcher. Sale worked parts of two seasons as a reliever before joining the rotation in 2012. At the time of reaching 1,000 innings, Sale had 1,123 strikeouts and 239 walks.
The four runs the Astros scored against Sale is the most the club has ever scored against him in six starts. The previous high was only two.
Hinch challenged Shuck safely reaching third base off a triple in the top of the eighth. After review, the umpires decided the call stood, but Hinch said after the game he still thought Shuck was out.
White Sox:Jose Quintana starts the third and final game of this very short White Sox road trip on Sunday at 1:10 p.m. CT. He is trying to break a nine-start streak without a victory. Quintana has an 0-7 record during those nine starts.
Astros:Collin McHugh takes the mound at Minute Maid Park in Sunday's series finale against the White Sox. He's 3-2 with a 4.44 ERA at home this season.
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Scott Merkin has covered the White Sox for MLB.com since 2003. Read his blog, Merk's Works, follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin, on Facebook and listen to his podcast.
Jordan Ray is a reporter for MLB.com based in Houston.