CHICAGO -- Less than a week removed from his third appearance in the All-Star Game, White Sox left-hander Chris Sale was asked Monday night about the next potential honor for which he might be considered -- the American League Cy Young Award.
But after he earned his ninth victory of the season in a 3-1 Sox triumph over the Royals at U.S. Cellular Field, the 25-year-old diverted the talk to a different goal Sox players would like to at least keep as a long shot -- the playoffs. The Sox have entered the part of the season where both become legitimate topics of conversation.
The Royals series opener was the first of 13 straight games against AL Central opponents, and the Royals are one of a handful of teams in front of the Sox in the race for the second AL wild-card spot.
"I don't really pay too much attention to any of that (Cy Young talk)," Sale said. "I have a job to do and I have to focus on doing that and winning games. We're right in the hunt right now. These are the dog days, and you've got to bear down. Now is not the time to be thinking about yourself or some trophy or whatever."
Sale (9-1) hadn't pitched more than the one All-Star inning since July 9, and he had to work on a muggy night on the South Side. He pitched seven innings, allowing one run on seven hits, walking one and striking out eight. He lowered his ERA to 2.03 this season and 1.47 over his last three starts.
Reliever Jake Petricka pitched a scoreless ninth for his fourth save.
"I had a lot of time off and I felt rested," Sale said. "I felt really good tonight."
Adam Dunn, not one to hype games unnecessarily, said beforehand that he considers the current stretch "pretty meaningful." He then hit a two-run single in the first inning off Royals right-hander Jeremy Guthrie and scored the other run on Gordon Beckham's bases-loaded sacrifice fly in the sixth.
"There does come a point where it's kind of a make-or-break stretch," Dunn said. "If we can get on a good run here, it would be pretty big. . . . We can make up a lot of ground or lose a lot."
The Royals scored their lone run off Sale in the fourth when Alex Gordon singled, stole second and scored on Danny Valencia's single up the middle. Sale had hit Valencia with a pitch in the second after Guthrie hit two Sox batters in the first. Valencia tried to score on Alcides Escobar's two-out double down the left-field line, but the Sox caught him at the plate on a relay from Alejandro De Aza to Ramirez to catcher Tyler Flowers.
The Royals threatened again in the sixth by putting two on with a single and a walk. But Sale struck out Valencia and Escobar to preserve the Sox lead.
"The Royals have quite a lineup, so it's not something that you feel (Sale is) going to breeze through," Sox manager Robin Ventura said. "It wasn't easy and he worked really hard. ... He just finds a way. He's a great pitcher, but the competitive part of him gets him through when he might not have his best stuff. ... There is no reason why he shouldn't be in the (Cy Young) discussion."
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