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Chris Sale has ridden a three-week-long roller coaster

Chris Sale catcher Tyler Flowers meet mound after Sale’s complete-game victory. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

Chris Sale and catcher Tyler Flowers meet at the mound after Sale’s complete-game victory. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: July 7, 2012 8:19AM



Paul Konerko wasn’t in the lineup. Neither were A.J. Pierzynski and Alejandro De Aza.

In other buzz-kill news, The Cell was much closer to half full than full. Not exactly a pick-me-up for a team on a serious roll.

And none of it made a bit of difference Sunday.

That’s because Chris Sale was pitching for the White Sox. If it weren’t for a monster home run by the Seattle Mariners’ Miguel Olivo in the second inning, Sale would have been his usual overpowering self. He has become so good so quickly that the temptation is to expect it from him all the time.

Think about that for a moment. In the space of three weeks, Sale has gone from a starter to a guy with a problem arm to a member of the bullpen to the Sox’ best pitcher — and only then because he persuaded Sox officials he was healthy enough to be a starter.

So it was only right that Sale struck out Olivo in the ninth to help the Sox win 4-2. This is a man who knows how to get in the last word.

Before the game, he was named the American League’s pitcher of the month for May. So, yeah, it was your typical 31-day stretch.

“It is kind of crazy how it all unfolded,’’ Sale said.

Here’s how complete the metamorphosis has been: He threw 119 pitches Sunday for his first complete-game victory. Three weeks ago, he was getting a magnetic resonance imaging test on his tender left elbow, and his agent was complaining about how the Sox were handling him.

“It was his,’’ manager Robin Ventura said of his decision to let Sale pitch the ninth. “He earned it.’’

The Sox might have some explaining to do if Sale breaks down, but there was no talk of that Sunday. There was more talk of how he gave an overtaxed bullpen some rest.

Sale doesn’t throw so much as he unfolds. There’s something mechanical in his motion, like a lever. Or, given how skinny he is, maybe it’s closer to a switchblade opening. Any way you look at it, he’s murderously fast.

But what we’re witnessing is the light bulb going on for a young pitcher.

“He’s become even more efficient, and that’s the thing that’s going to make him one of the elite pitchers,’’ Ventura said. “It’s one thing to throw hard and have nasty stuff. It’s another to be efficient with the pitches that you throw. He’s just getting much better with that.’’

It was Sale’s his fourth consecutive victory and the Sox’ 10th in their last 11 games.

“I’m just feeding off guys and just looking for guidance and things everyone’s been telling me,’’ he said. “The work I’ve been putting in, I’m glad it’s paying off.’’

If there was a day for a letdown from Sale, Sunday was probably it. The only real question was whether his last outing, the 15-K gem, would somehow have a negative impact on his psyche.

Uh, no. He threw a five-hitter.

All of this makes perfect sense for a team that is doing what it’s not supposed to be doing.

Gordon Beckham recently has found his hitting stroke after years of intense and futile searching. Will it last? Who knows.

Adam Dunn looks like a slugger just acquired in a blockbuster trade, not like a guy who had one of the worst seasons in major-league history last year for the Sox.

But the rise of Sale is the damnedest thing in the damnedest of seasons to this point.

It’s to the point where you expect greatness whenever he takes the ball. And, really, he should have buzzed through the Mariners’ lineup Sunday. The highest batting average in the order was Ichiro Suzuki’s .271, followed by Michael Saunders’ .256. The Mariners came in with a .238 team batting average.

But Olivo and his .200 average pounded a 448-foot homer to dead center in the second inning. It was a reminder to Sale that he’s not unhittable. He went back to work, finished with eight strikeouts and raised his record to 7-2.

An announced crowd of 23,062 witnessed it on a beautiful day. It’s June, and the White Sox are in first place by 2 1/2 games in the AL Central. It’s OK to come out, Sox fans.

When Sale pitches, the public-address system plays “Come Sail Away’’ by Styx. I’ve heard a lot of reasons for the lack of attendance at Sox games. I think this could be it.



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