As Chris Sale knocked out the first 17 Yankees batters one by one Thursday night at U.S. Cellular Field, it became clear the White Sox finally had their ace back after he spent 34 long days on the disabled list.
The Yankees brought their usual hype to the South Side for the opener of a four-game series, this time in the form of Derek Jeter’s farewell tour, but it was Sale who owned the night in his return from a flexor muscle strain.
Sale pitched 52/3 perfect innings before Yankees left fielder Zoilo Almonte broke it up with a single to center field. Dating to his last appearance April 17 against the Red Sox, Sale had retired 19 straight batters before that hit.
Sale finished with 10 strikeouts, striking out the side in the first inning and again in the third.
Sox manager Robin Ventura said Sale was “bouncing around” the Sox clubhouse in the last week in anticipation of his return, and the Sox also were happy to welcome him back.
“We always love giving him the ball,” captain Paul Konerko said before the game. “Every time he touches it, there’s a chance something really good could happen. … Hopefully with the Yankees and everything he’s under control out there, which I think he will be, and just does his thing.”
Almonte’s hit, after which the crowd gave Sale a standing ovation, at least solved the question of how long the Sox would let Sale stretch out his perfect game.
Sale threw 68 pitches in his minor league rehab start Friday, and Ventura and Sox general manager Rick Hahn said before the game that he would likely stay below 100 pitches in his return. He finished at 86 Thursday.
“We are still in the process of rebuilding Chris back to his previous level,” Hahn said before the game. “We absolutely have had conversations about what to expect. I assure you he’s going to be watched closely for any signs of fatigue or stress and we will respond accordingly.”
Sale’s performance helped the Sox hold an early 2-0 lead over the Yankees.
With two outs against Yankees right-hander David Phelps in the second inning, Konerko and Alejandro De Aza hit back-to-back doubles for a 1-0 lead. Tyler Flowers walked and Adam Eaton followed with an RBI single to push the Sox ahead 2-0.
Phelps lasted seven innings, allowing six hits and just those two runs, walking one and striking out eight.
The Sox added an extra run in the eighth inning when Gordon Beckham led off with a double and Adam Dunn drove him in with a single down the right-field line.