Before a national audience on the ESPN Sunday night broadcast, Chicago donned throwback jerseys in a nod to the 1983 LaRussa-managed team that won 99 games and delivered the White Sox's first postseason appearance in 24 years. Ron Kittle, with 35 HRs and 100 RBIs, was the Rookie of the Year that year, and he threw out the first pitch tonight. But the '83 White Sox were really a squad that lived on their pitching, with two 22+ game winners in LaMarr Hoyt and Richard Dotson leading the team into that year's ALCS, and pitching was the story again tonight.
Chris Sale, selected in the 2010 MLB draft only five slots before Kaleb Cowart, was called up only two months after being drafted (one of only five players in MLB history to play for the big club in the same year as they were drafted). While Kaleb Cowart struggles with a .206 avg in AA ball, Sale is in his fourth season in the Majors, with a career 3.01 ERA at age 24. Coming into tonight's game he was 7-1 with a 2.66 ERA in his last 10 games at home, and had never lost vs the AL West, sporting a 8-0 record and 3.12 ERA to testify to the fact.
He didn't lose tonight.
Working four pitches nearly effortlessly in 38-degree Southside weather, he had a perfect game through six and a third. After Alberto Callaspo nearly sent a single up the middle to lead off the seventh, Alexei Ramirez saved the perfecto on a spinning grab. But Mike Trout was up next, and placed the ball just a couple feet right of the previous ball, and the dream was dust.
A moral victory, but not a real one. In the rest of the Angels' seventh, what would have been an infield hit on a slow grounder to third for any normal runner was out two for Pujols. Trout stole third on a sketchy play that replays showed might have been a blown call, but no matter. After Trumbo just missed a line drive home run by a few feet shy of the right field foul pole, Sale promptly struck him out swinging on a nearly neck-high pitch.
The bottom of the seventh was decisive. A two pitch groundout preceded a five pitch walk. MLB Gameday suggested that homeplate umpire Ed Hickox had swept away the bottom of his strike zone in the later innings, and two of the called balls were well within the zone at the knees. But Wilson had walked three already, so there's no charity for the wild ones.
On the 97th pitch of the night for CJ, Tyler Greene singled up the middle and set the stage for the curtain drop. CJ overthrew a slider to Iannetta, advancing both runners to second and third on a wild pitch. Alexei Ramirez came up to bat, and with the Nervous Nibbler in ascendancy, CJ Wilson immediately threw three balls, got a gracious foul-off, and then induced a grounder to the left side that stone glove Brendan Harris just couldn't stretch out enough for, and which Mark Trumbo subsequently bobbled in leftfield. In a close game like this one, defense matters, and both runners cashed in. 2-0 White Sox.
CJ came out, Kohn came in, and quickly hung a slider in the middle of the plate, and Alex Rios doubled in Ramirez. 3-0 White Sox. Kohn struck out Adam Dunn predictably to end the inning, but the deal was dealt.
You didn't want this one to come down to the bullpen. And in the end, it didn't. CJ Wilson overstayed his welcome, and blew a nailbiter himself in familiar fashion, with walks and wild pitches, and balls in all the wrong places. The White Sox don't have much of an offense – in fact, they're in the bottom of the AL in most measurable categories – but it didn't matter. Wilson walked four, K'd only three, and with six hits, a couple of them in timely situations, the team lost their 23rd game in 37 tries.
Congratulations to the young Chris Sale on his no-walk one-hitter. It only took him 98 pitches to dispense with the Halos in this complete game shutout. The Angels are an easy mark at this point, but he was transparently awesome tonight, regardless the fecklessness of the also-ran Anaheim boys and their sweepless skunkery.