Pitchers besides Mark Buehrle have had a difficult time putting their stamp on Opening Day. Chris Sale didn't have such issues. This five-year contract is off to a much better start.
Sale threw 7⅔ beautiful innings against a team that usually gives him a hard time, striking out seven Royals while allowing just seven singles and a walk. On a typically cold April day, all he received in support was a Tyler Flowers homer, and he made it stand up.
The Royals only really pressured Sale in the third. Jeff Francouer led off with a single. Two batters later, Sale walked Alex Gordon (even though Pitch f/x says all six pitches were strikes). Alcides Escobar hit a grounder past Sale, and Gordon Beckham got a glove on it, but couldn't find the handle, resulting in a bases-loaded infield single.
That brought Billy Butler to the plate. Butler is the only guy to homer off Sale three times, but Sale got him to swing over a nasty slider for the second out. Mike Moustakas popped out to Beckham to end the inning, and Sale escaped unscathed.
He used his defense well, too. Alexei Ramirez and Jeff Keppinger started a pair of double plays, with the 5-4-3 coming in the seventh inning after Beckham made a beautiful diving catch on a hot Lorenzo Cain liner to keep the runner at first.
Sale was one pitch away from completing eight inning, but Escobar slashed a 1-2 changeup into center field. With Butler coming to the plate for a fourth time, Robin Ventura called for Nate Jones.
That's when the nerves started to kick in. Jones walked Butler, including a couple of bounced sliders that allowed Escobar to take second and third. Ventura then called for Matt Thornton to take Moustakas, and Thornton avoided any kind of defense collapse by setting down Moustakas with three fastballs -- one out, one in, and one up for a strikeout swinging.
Addison Reed came on to close it in the ninth without a cushion, and he didn't need one. A one-out walk to Eric Hosmer prevented it from being a clean inning, but Reed had no problems with the other three hitters. He retired Salvador Perez with a groundout on a slider, struck out Crain, and got Francouer to tap a first-pitch slider to short for the final out. Six of Reed's 15 pitches were breaking balls, which is a welcome sign.
Most of the encouraging developments were on the pitching side, as the Sox's offense looked a lot like they did the last time they faced James Shields. They went 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position, with Adam Dunn (0-for-4, two strikeouts, five stranded) looking incredibly rough.
Flowers also contributed to the oh-fer when Shields froze him with an inside fastball with two on and one out in the second inning. But he got his revenge in the fifth. Shields threw him a hanging 2-2 changeup, and Flowers launched a soaring fly over the wall for the first fireworks of the year.
That was the lone highlight from the bats, although Alex Rios (2-for-3, a walk and a steal) and Alexei Ramirez (2-for-3) contributed multi-hit games. Thanks to Sale, one swing was enough.