O.co Coliseum used to be a graveyard for the Sox, but opening the season in Oakland might be just what they needed.
This time around, the Sox scored four runs via four hits and two costly errors in the third inning, then survived the A's best blows against Chris Sale in the bottom of the frame. From that point on, neither team threatened much, partially because both teams continued making mistakes.
Impromptu Opening Day starter Rich Hill -- Sonny Gray suffered food poisoning -- overcame two HBPs in the first inning, but when the lineup turned over a second time, his fastball-curve approach didn't faze the Sox. He walked ninth-hitting Austin Jackson on five pitches with one out, then fired wide on a pickoff throw to advance him 180 feet. Adam Eaton followed with a triple over the head of Billy Burns (who didn't read the ball well) for the season's first run.
Eaton then came home on Jimmy Rollins' blooper to right, and Jose Abreu rifled a ball to left to put two in scoring position. Hill struck out Todd Frazier to get within an out of limiting the damage, and he appeared to do so when Melky Cabrera hit a weak grounder up the middle. Marcus Semien gloved it and had time to angle his body for a throw on the run, but he still fired high and wide to take Mark Canha off the bag. Then, Canha didn't catch the ball. One run scored on the bad throw, and Abreu hustled home after the ball trickled away for a 4-0 lead.
The Sox didn't score again, and it looked like they'd need to after Sale gave up three runs in the bottom of the third. Steven Vogt cancelled the postgame show with an infield single to second base with one out, and then Sale walked Semien to create a jam. Like Hill, he got the second out uneventfully, but then Sale gave up three straight singles to cut the White Sox' lead to one.
Sale leaned heavily on raw power over the first three innings, but after Billy Butler started the fourth with a double, the Condor was able to summon his whole arsenal. He froze Canha with a backdoor slider, struck out Vogt with a diving breaking ball, and then broke Semien's bat, and he regained control of the game in imposing fashion.
Sale's line is pedestrian by his standards -- 7 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 8 K -- but he showed peak form in his other innings.
Third inning: 1 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 34 pitches
- Other innings: 6 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 6 K, 70 pitches
Dioner Navarro brought his night to an easy conclusion, too. Sale wasn't in the most comfortable of situations in the seventh, even with two outs. He had the speedy Burns on first base and nemesis Jed Lowrie at the plate, but that potentially potent combo self-destructed when Burns broke for second, then tried to double back to first, only to have Navarro's snap throw beat him for the third out.
While the Sox weren't perfect in the field -- Austin Jackson overcharged a single, giving up a base on the boot for an error, and Brett Lawrie nearly overhustled into taking out Jackson on a shallow fly to center -- they were much sharper than their counterparts. Jackson stayed with a low liner in the second inning, Sale handled a hasty play in front of the plate with help from Abreu, who made a few nice plays around first base himself. Throw in Navarro's stolen out, and the Sox won that aspect handily.
It helped make up for poor execution elsewhere. Eaton and Lawrie were both picked off (Lawrie would've beaten the throw to second, but he didn't slide directly into the base), and Melky Cabrera and Navarro both popped out on bunt attempts.
Robin Ventura also joined the fun, taking the scenic route through the bullpen to create an adventure in the eighth. In a 4-3 game, he called for Jake Petricka instead of Nate Jones. Since he had Zach Duke ready, I'm guessing his reasoning was that he didn't want Josh Reddick to face a righty no matter what , but Petricka complicated matters by walking the first batter. Duke did his job by getting Reddick to tap out, but it moved the runner into scoring position and still necessitated an appearance from Jones, who handled his two batters with ease. He probably should've faced three from the start.
Bob Melvin made his own strange choices in the ninth. After David Robertson walked Coco Crisp to start the ninth, Robertson sent three straight lefties to face Robertson, including two pinch-hitters. That played into the Sox' hands, as Robertson has more success against the platoon split. Sure enough, he froze Coghlan on three pitches, induced a weak flyout from Vogt, then retired Yonder Alonso on a nice play from Lawrie for the save.
It wasn't pretty, but it was a work of art compared to last year's opener.