CHICAGO, IL- JULY 3: Starting pitcher Chris Sale #49 of the Chicago White Sox tips his hat to the crowd after he was taken out of the game during the eighth inning against the Texas Rangers on July 3, 2012 at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Brian Kersey/Getty Images)
Updated: August 6, 2012 12:15PM
Ask White Sox All-Star left-hander Chris Sale about his success this season, and the conversation quickly turns into a series of baseball clichés.
Sale, 23, will praise the defense behind him, the run support, heck, the heavens above for making the wind blow in all day.
But when you bring up his few stumbles, that’s when Sale’s true personality comes out. And that’s when you realize that a big chip can fit comfortably on such scrawny shoulders.
“Yeah, I take it personally,’’ Sale said when asked to describe the one-on-one battles against hitters. “How can’t you?
“I don’t think anyone should go out there and say, ‘You know what? I think I’m going to be mediocre today, and I’ll be fine with that.’ You start accepting failure, start accepting five innings, three runs or five innings, four runs … ‘Hey, I didn’t do too bad.’ You start accepting that, and it becomes good enough.’’
Sale has 10 wins and has trouble remembering the details of most of them. But he can rattle off the games in which he wasn’t dominant.
“When the Tigers came in here and beat me up, when L.A. beat me up, Kansas City beat me up, yeah, I have a chip on my shoulder the next time I go out and face those guys,’’ Sale said Wednesday. “Nothing against them, but it’s me wanting to prove that I can go out there and take down those teams, I can beat them. That’s just about being a competitor.’’
No, that’s about being an ace.
That’s the mentality a staff ace has: combative, defiant. That best describes Sale. Who knew?
I sure didn’t. Otherwise I wouldn’t have insisted in a column this winter that Sale would be better served as the closer. With each outing since April 9, I’ve had to put a chunk of that article in my mouth, chew it and swallow it.
His teammates call him “Flat Stanley’’ for his 6-6, 180-pound-when-soaking-wet build, but unless there was a book in the children’s series in which Stanley turned assassin, the nickname only holds true for Sale’s physical makeup.
“When he was first here, he was just the shy guy,’’ teammate John Danks said. “As he’s gotten comfortable, we’ve been seeing the real Chris Sale. He doesn’t take anything for granted. Then when he’s on the field, he’s all about trying to do whatever it takes to beat the hitter.’’
As for the concerns that he won’t hold up as a starter for an entire season or that his violent delivery will be his undoing?
“Everyone is at risk pitching,’’ Danks said. “I’ve been told my whole life that I had a clean, smooth delivery, and now look at me.’’
Danks is on the 15-day disabled list. Sale is on the list of American League Cy Young Award candidates.
That doesn’t mean the Sox aren’t concerned with the innings the reliever-turned-starter is on pace to hit this season. It was supposed to be in the 160-170 range, but he’s on a collision course with the 200 mark.
“I think we’ll go by how I feel, see how my stuff is, then go from there,’’ Sale said.
But if the Sox want to win the Central Division, Sale had better be on the mound every fifth day in September. And if they try to hold him back, well, expect a fight. He showed in May that he’d fight to stay in the rotation when there was talk about a move back to the bullpen because of elbow soreness. Holding him back in a pennant race? Good luck with that.
“They do have the final say,’’ Sale said. “I can only speak my mind so much before I look like I’m trying to overrule them. That’s not what I’m trying to do. I’m just trying to win games.’’
Spoken like a true ace.