CHICAGO -- There was no doubt Robin Ventura wouldn't let Chris Sale go for a perfect game Thursday in his first start since missing a month with a flexor muscle strain.
But after the left-hander's near-perfect six inning outing, will Ventura give him a shot next time?
"I hope he makes me make a decision," Ventura said. "You won't know the (pitch count) next time, but he'll know the number, so he needs to be very efficient."
Sale was back in fine form Thursday in his first major league start since landing on the disabled list last month, carrying a perfect game into the sixth before Zoilo Almonte's two-out single. He wound up throwing six shutout innings, striking out 10 and facing 19 hitters in a brilliant one-hit performance in the White Sox's eventual 3-2 victory.
Because they both knew he was coming out after the sixth, Ventura said he was "relieved" when Sale gave up a hit, and Sale cracked, "I don't think I've ever been more excited to give up a hit in my life."
It was a virtual rerun of Sale's last two outings.
In his last start with the Sox on April 17 against the Red Sox, Sale pitched seven innings of one-hit ball, striking out 10 and allowing only five balls past the infield, including Xander Boegarts' home run. In his rehab start for Triple-A Charlotte last Friday in Durham, N.C., Sale struck out 11 and gave up an infield hit in four scoreless innings, letting only one ball past the infield.
On Thursday he upped the ante, making the kind of comeback that can kick start an injury-plagued team in desperate need of a boost.
"When he pitches, you can't be an underdog," Paul Konerko said. "There are some guys out there you feel it's an even match, but he's up to that (other) level now. I don't feel like there's anybody he can go up against where you feel like we're behind the 8-ball going in.
"There are some pitchers in the league who have the same type of stuff, ring to their name, same makeup and stuff. We're fortunate we have one, and it's nice to see him back out there."
A crowd of 21,677 was rewarded with a snapshot of the revolving world of baseball stardom. While Sale is taking off into another stratosphere, Derek Jeter's stellar career is winding down.
Playing in his final series on the South Side, Jeter recalled an August night in 1996 when he was beginning his emergence as an American icon.
"I remember my first year, coming here toward the end of the year," he said. "And I remember me and the pitcher, (James) Baldwin were both up for Rookie of the Year, and they were saying it's a big matchup. I hit a home run that day, so I remember that."
Jeter indeed homered off Baldwin in the eighth inning of a 3-1 Yankees victory. Thanks to modern technology, I was able to find my account of that game from the Tribune files. Sox players were upset that manager Terry Bevington had said Jeter should win the award, and Baldwin was a little testy.
"Good for him," Baldwin said when asked about Jeter. "He's a good player. If he wins Rookie of the Year, so what?"
Jeter wound up winning the league's rookie award, while Baldwin finished second. Baldwin retired after 2005 with 79 victories, and his son, James J. Baldwin, is currently an outfielder in the Dodgers system.
Time flies, even if the games sometimes drag, and you're lucky if you can remember any game from the past once you bounce past 50. Girardi, who turns 50 in October, was asked before Wednesday's game against the Cubs at Wrigley Field if he ever went to Sox games as a kid growing up in Peoria.
"No, the first time I went to Comiskey Park was in the Crosstown Classic as a (Cubs) player," he said. "I'm not so sure I knew they existed until I got to college."
The Sox did indeed exist back when Girardi attended Northwestern. And on Thursday, their ace made the Yankees hitters disappear, one by one.
"He's just nasty out there," Yankees reliever Matt Thornton said of his former Sox teammate. "When you lose someone like that, it's a blow to any team. We're going through it here with the pitchers we've lost in New York.
"Guys can step up and fill that void, but Chris Sale coming back is obviously a big boost for them."
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