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MORRISSEY: Sale turns up the heat during cold opener at Cell

Winning pitcher Chris Sale blows his hkeep warm while talking with catcher Tyler Flowers eighth inning Chicago White Sox 1-0

Winning pitcher Chris Sale blows on his hand to keep warm while talking with catcher Tyler Flowers in the eighth inning of the Chicago White Sox 1-0 win over the Kansas City Royals on opening day at US Cellular Field Monday April 1, 2013. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: May 3, 2013 6:27AM



Paul Konerko was talking about how different the first game of the season is.

“Opening Day is like its own animal,’’ Konerko said.

Yeah, a polar bear.

I don’t want to say it was cold at the Cell on Monday, but a line drive turned into an actual frozen rope, and the thought of a frost warning had the White Sox worried about their annuals, perennials and Tyler Flowers. People in the stands wore snow hats and winter coats.

And Chris Sale wore short sleeves.

Maybe mind over matter was the secret. Or maybe the heat of his fastball kept him warm. Whatever it was, it worked. He struck out seven and walked one in 72/3 innings on the way to a 1-0 victory over the Royals.

“Once you get out there, adrenaline kind of takes over,’’ Sale said. “I was kind of worried it was going to be a freezing cold day. [Teammate John Danks said], ‘Man, once you get out there, you’re not even going to feel it.’ He was right on the money with that.’’

It’s amazing how far this kid has come in such a short time. Two years ago, he was a reliever. Last year, he was in danger of getting shut down as a starter. People were concerned about his funky, stick-figure delivery.

Then he went 17-8, was an All-Star and got very rich.

Monday came and went, but not before genuflecting.

“A special kid,’’ manager Robin Ventura called him after the game.

Two days after turning 24, Sale looked worthy of every bit of the five-year, $32.5 million contract extension he signed in early March. Some of us looked at the contract as the latest example of Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf ignoring his long-held belief that giving pitchers (and their elbows) long-term contracts is too risky.

But Rick Hahn, the Sox’ new general manager, made a strong case for signing Sale: If you think he’s going to be great, do you want to risk losing him when he hits free agency and commands truly big-time money?

“For us, it’s an easy choice on a premium player like Chris to choose to bear the risk of potential injury instead of sitting here and watching him succeed in our uniform and then cut short his White Sox career because economics drive him elsewhere,’’ he said.

Sox pitchers are going to need to win all sorts of games this season — long ones, short ones, hot ones, cold ones. Can they? Will they?

“I think we have as much talent as any [pitching] staff I’ve ever been on, that’s for sure,’’ Jake Peavy said. “I think we can match up with anybody in the league one through 12.’’

You don’t dismiss what Peavy says just because he always looks on the bright side of life, though you do have to take his rah-rahing into consideration. Opening Day for the eternally optimistic Peavy is an example of optimism reaching critical mass. But he was dead-on Monday when he talked about where the Sox are in the pecking order of the American League Central — somewhere below the Tigers, who lost in the World Series last season.

The Sox can talk all they want about coming up three games short in the division last year, but it doesn’t mean a whole lot.

“At the end of the day, what we did last year, I don’t think it warrants respect,’’ Peavy said. “We didn’t get it done. We had a chance to get it done. We didn’t get it done. You get respect when you do what Detroit did, when you win the division and you win the playoffs.

“To be respected as one of the best teams in the league, you’ve got to win. You’ve got to get it done. That’s something we didn’t do and we haven’t done since I’ve been here.’’

Do the Sox have enough talent? I don’t know, and they don’t know, no matter what the heart on Peavy’s sleeve says. The Tigers made moves to get better. So did the Royals and Indians. The Sox didn’t do anything splashy, aside from giving Sale the contract extension, but splashy doesn’t always work in baseball. You might recall that Albert Pujols didn’t turn out to be Albert Pujols after he signed with the Angels.

But the Sox are quick to point out that their 85-77 record last year didn’t come about because of anything unexpected.

“I don’t think we played above our potential or somebody had a career year,’’ Ventura said. “We didn’t have anybody win a Triple Crown. I think there’s more in this team than there was last year.’’

This was a very nice beginning for Flowers, whose fifth-inning homer helped a few Sox fans forget the man he replaced at catcher, A.J. Pierzynski, now a Ranger.

A sellout crowd of 39,012 saw second baseman Gordon Beckham dive to grab a bullet off the bat of Lorenzo Cain in the seventh inning, and it ended up being huge. Sale got the next batter, Jeff Francoeur, to ground into a double play. People spend too much time dwelling on Beckham’s hitting inadequacies and not enough on his defensive skills.

The announced game-time temperature was 44, but that must have been in the sun, not the shade of the stands, where people were bundled up like Packers fans in December. By the sixth inning, it was 36.

Bear down, everybody.

“We don’t expect any easy games this year at all,’’ Sale said. “Nobody’s going to come in and just roll over for us.’’

I don’t know about that. Let’s see what happens when he warms up.



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