ARLINGTON -- Chris Sale admittedly didn't have his best stuff during Friday's 9-5 victory over the Rangers before 47,638 at the Ballpark in Arlington, as evidenced by his fastball topping out at 92 mph on just two occasions over 6 1/3 innings.
What the first-year starter had was enough smarts and pitching ability to lead the White Sox to their fourth straight win and to a 1 1/2-game lead in the American League Central over the Tigers, who lost, 8-3, to the Blue Jays in Toronto. That lead comes just five days after the Tigers swept the White Sox and took a 1 1/2-game lead of their own.
The southpaw improved to 12-3, despite allowing five runs on six hits. Four of those runs came in the first inning, culminated by Nelson Cruz's 14th home run, a three-run shot to right-center. From the second to the sixth, Sale pitched scoreless baseball.
As for that velocity issue, Sale and the White Sox (54-45) responded with the same overall lack of worry as they did when questioned about the topic after the left-hander worked eight innings in a victory over the Royals on July 15.
"These guys can hit anything," said Sale of the potent Rangers offense. "Like I said before, it's not about how hard it's coming in. It's where it's at. I don't know how to answer that to be honest with you."
"We talked about it a little bit but it's him becoming more of a pitcher rather than just using velocity," said White Sox manager Robin Ventura of his ace left-hander, whose ERA stands at 2.61 after 18 starts and 19 games. "Every once in a while he can still do it. But I don't think it's anything arm related."
That health diagnosis from Ventura was quickly supported by his 23-year-old starter.
"Everything is fine," Sale said. "It's getting late in the year and that might be a little bit of it. But that's not something I'm paying attention to. I honestly couldn't care less how hard I'm throwing."
His ninth win in 10 decisions wasn't without its challenges.
In the fifth, Sale hit Craig Gentry with a pitch and then walked Ian Kinsler. Elvis Andrus unsuccessfully tried to bunt twice, and then struck out when manager Ron Washington had Andrus bunt a third time. Josh Hamilton followed with a three-pitch strikeout, missing a Sale slider on 0-2 by quite a margin, and Adrian Beltre took a called third to end the frame.
Texas (58-40) scored once in the seventh without benefit of a hit, but it could have been much worse. Nate Jones replaced Sale with a runner on first and one out and promptly hit Kinsler and walked Andrus to load the bases. Matt Thornton was brought in to face Hamilton, and induced a fielder's choice to first baseman Paul Konerko that scored a run. Thornton walked Beltre to re-load the bases, but Michael Young's line out to Alex Rios in right ended the rally.
After six strikeouts, two walks and 109 pitches thrown, Sale had improved to 2-0 against the American League West leaders.
"He's pretty good. He made some good pitches," said Kinsler. "We had some good at-bats against him and some opportunity, but that's what a good pitcher does. He makes pitches."
"I feel like we let him get away, especially when we came back and scored four runs in the first inning," Washington said. "I felt like we could make that stand."
Yu Darvish (11-7) made his inaugural appearance against the White Sox, and Ventura's crew didn't have much trouble getting to the Rookie of the Year candidate. The White Sox scored one in the first on Rios' sacrifice fly and two more in the second on Kevin Youkilis' 425-foot home run on an 0-2 pitch to cut the lead to one. It was a sequence that disappointed the Texas right-hander.
"Very much so," said Darvish of Youkilis' blast to center. "Two outs, two strikes and giving up that home run. That's something that was very unfortunate."
Alejandro De Aza's two-run single in the fourth gave the White Sox their first lead at 5-4. By the time Rios picked up his third RBI with a ninth-inning double off Alexi Ogando and Alexei Ramirez went deep, the White Sox were on their way to a fourth straight win against the two-time defending AL champs.
De Aza was not around at the end of the victory, after colliding with Ramirez on Gentry's blooper to short left-center with one on and nobody out in the seventh. Left fielder Dayan Viciedo had the presence of mind to pick up the baseball and fire to Gordon Beckham to force Yorvit Torrealba at second, but De Aza was replaced by Jordan Danks after sustaining a sprained left wrist when Ramirez bent the wrist back on the collision.
"His body twisted my wrist," De Aza said. "If I miss any time, maybe one day. But I don't think this is bad."
About the only loss for the White Sox on Friday was Zack Greinke being traded to the Angels for prospects. And that's assuming the White Sox were serious players for Greinke.
When questioned by MLB.com about the Greinke pursuit and his current perusal of other impact hurlers, general manager Ken Williams went with a "no comment" response by e-mail. He probably had plenty of words of praise to share concerning his starting pitcher.
"Fortunately for us we swung the bats," Sale said. "I was fortunate enough to hold them but [the offense] won the game for us tonight."