This figured to be a tough matchup Friday for the Mariners. Perhaps as tough as it gets. They’d sure better hope so, anyway.
Not only does Chicago ace Chris Sale rate as one of the game’s better lefties. He’s a sidewinding lefty and, as such, a brutal test for the Mariners’ lefty-heavy lineup.
It didn’t go well.
Sale was dominant, and the White Sox backed him with plenty of punch, including Jose Abreu’s major-league-leading 27th homer, in a 7-1 victory at U.S. Cellular Field.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The News Tribune
“Everybody knows he’s so good,” said Robinson Cano, whose one-out double in the ninth inning set up the Mariners’ only run. “He was great tonight.”
The Mariners also got an eyeful of Chicago left fielder Dayan Viciedo, whom they’ve been linked to in trade rumors.
Viciedo opened the scoring with a leadoff homer in the second inning against Mariners starter Roenis Elias (7-7), had three more singles in a 4-for-4 night, and threw out a runner at second base.
If Viciedo is on the market, as is widely believed, the price likely went up.
“I don’t really worry about that,” he said. “That’s something I don't control. I just worry about coming in and playing the game hard every day. I have no real concern with trade rumors or any of that stuff.”
South Side fan-favorite Paul Konerko delighted the holiday crowd of 30,297 with a two-run homer in the eighth inning against reliever Charlie Furbush that pushed the lead to 7-0.
Mostly, though, this was the Mariners facing a guy they were simply ill-equipped to handle. Sale had yielded just four hits all season in 781/3 previous innings to left-handed batters.
It was easy to see why.
“It’s a given that he’s a No. 1, ace, top-of-the-line guy,” said shortstop Willie Bloomquist, who had two of the Mariners’ six hits.
“He’s one of the top three or four pitchers in the game. Throw that along with the 6-o’clock shadows out there. For the first five innings, there wasn’t a whole lot you could see, let alone try to do with it.”
Sale cranked up his slider in facing a Mariners’ lineup that included six left-handed hitters.
“I knew warming up in the bullpen it was going to be a pretty good pitch for me tonight,” he said. “I threw a few more in my pre-game bullpen than I usually do, just because I knew the amount of lefties.”
Sale (8-1) struck out 12 while yielding just six hits in a 112-pitch effort that included no walks. He lost his shutout on Corey Hart’s sacrifice fly in the ninth inning.
The Mariners’ four-game winning streak came to a quiet end.
“He’s one of the best in the league,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “Our lefties, for the most part this year, have handled lefties pretty (well). This guy was special tonight.”
Elias kept the game competitive until the fifth.
It was just 1-0 — thanks to that Viciedo homer — when Moises Sierra led off with a single. Elias then nicked Tyler Flowers with an 0-2 curve.
After that, it got away in a hurry.
Adam Eaton sent a drive over the head of right fielder Michael Saunders. Even so, the Mariners had a play at the plate on Sierra, but catcher Mike Zunino couldn’t handle Cano’s throw.
Gordon Beckham’s sacrifice fly to left extended the lead to 3-0 before Abreu drove a first-pitch fastball over the left-center wall for a two-run homer that made it 5-0.
“Bad day,” Elias said. “The pitches were there. They just hit them. It’s just baseball.”
A five-run lead with Sale? Sold.
Elias didn’t return for the sixth and ended with a line that showed five runs and seven hits in five innings.
The Mariners put two runners on base only once before the ninth. That came in the sixth when singles by Michael Saunders and Bloomquist, combined with a wild pitch, put runners at second and third with two outs.
Sale ended the threat by striking out Cano with a killer slider.
“He confuses every lefty,” Cano said, “because you don’t know when it’s a fastball or when it’s a slider. Coming from the side, that makes it really tough to see his pitches.
“But there are no excuses. He pitched really great tonight, and now I know why he’s 11-1.”
As noted earlier, Sale is just 8-1 (with a 2.16 ERA), but ... give Cano (and any of the Mariners, really) a pass for exaggerating.