CHICAGO -- The first inning of Saturday's 7-2 White Sox victory over the Twins at U.S. Cellular Field turned out to be an interesting one for Chris Sale.
He hit two batters in an inning for the second time in his career. He then hit himself twice in the head with the baseball upon getting the return throw from home-plate umpire Bill Miller after connecting with Jorge Polanco's foot to force in a run.
"When I get mad, I feel the need to hurt myself," said Sale, shaking his head in disbelief. "I don't get it. I don't understand it."
But this is a different Sale than two or three years ago. This is a more mature pitcher, not only sitting at the top of the rotation but also as the clubhouse leader.
So, after allowing two runs on two hits and the two hit batsmen and using 36 pitches, Sale cruised over the next six frames to improve to 7-0 overall. He became the fifth White Sox pitcher since 1913 to win his first seven-plus starts of a season, joining Eddie Cicotte (12, 1919), John Whitehead (eight, 1935), Jon Garland (eight, 2005) and Jack McDowell (seven, 1993) per STATS.
Sale also became the first starting pitcher to begin a season by winning each of his first seven decisions since Brandon Webb posted a 9-0 record in 2008, per MLB Network pregame notes. Sale allowed two runs over seven innings, matching a season high with nine strikeouts, while giving up three hits. He retired 19 of the final 20 hitters he faced.
Credit was then given to his teammates, which is nothing new for Sale.
"You guys are talking about 7-0 --- my teammates got me here," said Sale, who threw a season-high 120 pitches. "They got through this one today. I didn't give [catcher Dioner Navarro] too much to work with. I had a good breaking ball today and that was about it. Fastball all over the place, changeup wasn't there for the most part, and he got me through that game and my guys won this game for us. I was just along for the ride."
"Whenever he gets [out there], we know he's going to dominate," said White Sox third baseman Todd Frazier, who compared Sale's dominance to that of Johnny Cueto when they played together with the Reds. "We just have to keep battling and do our jobs. When he's out there, we're excited."
There's little question Sale was over-amped in the first inning, hitting 97 mph on five pitches despite an expressed goal to pitch with a little less velocity this season. Sale targeted this night against the Twins, after Minnesota hung four losses on him in six starts last season, along with a 7.36 ERA.
Once the left-hander returned to the calmer version featured on the mound this season, it was smooth Sale(ing) for the White Sox.
"I was trying to get to the eighth inning before I got through the first," Sale said. "It took [White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper] and [second baseman Brett Lawrie] to kind of calm me down and get me back to where I needed to be and just reassure me of my stuff and myself."