CHICAGO -- Chris Sale had a perfect but unwanted view of the White Sox balanced and suddenly high-powered offense during a 9-6 victory over the Indians Friday night at U.S. Cellular Field.
It was unwanted because the White Sox ace made a rare early exit after just five innings and 105 pitches. So, he watched Adam Eaton get on base in four straight plate appearances and Conor Gillaspie set a career-high with four RBIs, among the many highlights.
For a man who ranked second in the American League in lowest run support during the 2013 season (3.19 RSA), Sale certainly liked what he witnessed. Sale shares a similar opinion with pretty much every White Sox fan through the first 11 games of the '14 campaign.
"Yeah, the feel from this year is completely different," said Sale, who has won each of his first three starts. "We're battling, we're fighting."
"These guys, they just kind of have some jump when they come out," said White Sox manager Robin Ventura of his offense. "They just feel like they're going to score."
Sale not only welcomed the run support, but also any sort of victory against the Indians (5-6). The Cy Young candidate posted a dismal 0-4 record with an 8.61 ERA over four starts against the Indians in 2013, so he has already surpassed that win total with one trip to the mound.
Friday's win gives the White Sox (6-5) two straight victories over Cleveland in this four-game series, matching last year's entire win total over 19 head-to-head contests between the two clubs. Sale put at least two runners on base in the first, second and fifth, but by recent Cleveland standards, this was a masterpiece.
"That could be one of the worst outings for Sale, not statistically or anything like that, but as far as his feel and his comfort out there," said White Sox catcher Tyler Flowers of his batterymate, who struck out five, walked two and gave up just three runs. "He really didn't seem to have that all day."
"Fastball command was not nearly where I wanted it to be, breaking ball was not really sharp, couldn't really command that," Sale said. "It was a combination of a lot of things, not finding a rhythm, not getting into a groove and really doing what I'm supposed to do."
The White Sox grabbed a 3-0 lead after four innings courtesy of Eaton's run-scoring double off of Carlos Carrasco (0-2), Gillaspie's sacrifice fly and Alejandro De Aza's single bringing home Adam Dunn. Alexei Ramirez singled to start a two-run rally in the third, giving the White Sox shortstop hits in all 11 games this year.
Cleveland didn't take long to tie the game, with three runs in the fifth coming on four hits from the first four hitters, including Asdrubal Cabrera's two-run double and Nick Swisher's run-scoring single. For every punch the Indians threw, though, the White Sox had a counter punch.
"Just a great look at the team," Eaton said. "They fought back. We fought back and we continued to fight. It's good to see this team continue to fight. It's a good team win."
Four of the nine walks issued by five Cleveland pitchers produced two runs in the fifth on just one hit to break the 3-3 tie. Gillaspie's two-run, two-out double scored two more in the sixth.
Marcus Semien reached base in three straight plate appearances with two walks and a hit, while Dunn reached base in four straight with a single, double and two free passes. Eaton stood at the heart of this attack, as he has all season, with two hits, two walks and three runs scored.
This latest effort from the feisty leadoff man caused Sale to pull out the superlatives before the season's second week has even been completed.
"I know I have a very biased opinion," Sale said. "But I think Adam Eaton is the most exciting player in baseball, in terms of every time he gets up to the plate, something is going to happen, whether it's a close play, a bunt single, a double in the gap or a stolen base."
When apprised of Sale's compliment, Eaton smiled and followed an "oh, geez" with a "save it" for Sale, whom he in turn called the most exciting player. The White Sox are having the sort of fun that was missing from almost all of last season.
Jake Petricka, Maikel Cleto and Donnie Veal closed out the last four innings, giving Sale and the White Sox a victory on a night where they were far from perfect, but never gave up or gave in. Resiliency has become the watchword for Ventura's crew.
"If you compete every pitch, it doesn't matter what the score is," Eaton said. "You go out with your best effort and you compete, good things are going to happen. When you throw away at-bats, that's when games get away from you."
"Sale's a really good pitcher," Cleveland manager Terry Francona said. "And we did a pretty good job to fight back in that game, but it's just hard to keep coming back. We've got to put up a zero at some point."