By Mark Gonzales, Chicago Tribune –
MINNEAPOLIS — Pitching coach Don Cooper took exception to those who questioned why the White Sox started 16-game winner Chris Sale on Friday night against the last-place Twins instead of Monday in the makeup game against the American League Central enemy Tigers.
“If we can win two more than the Tigers, we’re in (the playoffs) by my math,” Cooper said.
Sale backed up the Sox’s ever-changing strategy as he beat the Twins 6-0 and helped maintain the Sox’s one-game lead over the Tigers with 19 games left.
With at least three starts left, Sale (now 17-6) has an outside chance at becoming the Sox’s first 20-game winner since Esteban Loaiza won 21 in 2003. But the greater priority for the Sox is winning enough games to stay ahead of the Tigers.
“I’m here for this team,” Sale said. “I’m not trying to win awards or anything like that. The only award I want is the big shiny trophy at the end.”
Facing a lineup that was missing Joe Mauer for the third consecutive game because of back spasms, Sale enjoyed his coziest start since beating the AL West-leading Rangers 19-2 on July 3. Relying on an assortment of off-speed and breaking pitches, Sale retired the first eight batters and didn’t allow a runner to reach second base until the fifth inning in improving to 3-0 with a 0.90 ERA against the Twins this year.
“He doesn’t have to throw 95, 96 mph on every pitch,” manager Robin Ventura said. “He has a little different subtleness to it. He can get it up there, so guys are guarded against (the fastball). But he has a good feel.”
Sale didn’t allow a walk while striking out five and scattering three hits in six innings as he lowered his ERA to 2.78 and improved to 11-3 after a Sox loss. In the process, he allowed Ventura to revert to the preferred script of not using his bullpen until the seventh.
The recent frenzied use of relievers had Cooper relishing the possibility of winning a division with a plethora of relievers offsetting the recent inability of starters to pitch deep into games.
“I will feel a sense of accomplishment if we get in,” Cooper said. “And once you get in, because we’ve been in it before, it’s the lottery. You have to be in it to win it. And the hardest thing to me is getting in.
“If we get in, you have to believe it will be one heck of an accomplishment.”
Kevin Youkilis hit his third home run in two games in the seventh and Alex Rios continued his resurgence with his second two-hit game in his last four.
Rios doubled and scored the Sox’s first run in the second, and he capped the two-run effort in the seventh with an RBI single that extended the lead to 5-0.
That run made it more comfortable for Ventura to pull Sale after 99 pitches.