CHICAGO -- Chris Sale completed a winless month of June by virtue of Cleveland's 4-0 victory over the White Sox before 27,032 on Sunday at U.S. Cellular Field.
The words "Chris Sale" and "winless" don't exactly fit together. Not with the electric stuff possessed by one of the American League's top starters. But despite another quality trip to the mound, Sale (5-7) finished a six-start run over the past 30 days with an 0-5 record and one no-decision.
The fact that Sale finished the month with a 3.19 ERA over 42 1/3 innings, along with 53 strikeouts and just nine walks, makes him the poster boy for pitching better than one's record shows.
Against the Indians, Sale reached double-digit strikeouts for the fourth time this season by fanning 10. He yielded three runs on seven hits over eight innings and 123 pitches but was left to talk about another near-miss.
"Just another tough one -- just got to keep your head up," Sale said. "Keep plugging along, keep chugging and try to put this one behind us."
"Yeah, the guy's running out there with a [2.79] ERA," White Sox catcher Tyler Flowers said of Sale. "He's going to be OK if he keeps doing that. We'll get him at some point."
Through three innings of this series finale, Justin Masterson (10-6) and Sale had faced the minimum 18 combined hitters despite Masterson allowing Adam Dunn's leadoff single in the second. Sale had fanned five, as the Indians (44-38) were having trouble making contact, let alone getting a ball to fall in safely.
Drew Stubbs seemed to turn the momentum with a bunt single to start the fourth. Two runs eventually scored on Ryan Raburn's double and Carlos Santana's single, and that support was all Masterson needed.
"When you face Sale, you've got to figure you're not going to get a whole lot of runs. His stuff is so filthy," said Cleveland manager Terry Francona of the White Sox ace. "Stubby laying down that bunt was so big. It made him pitch out of the stretch, and Raburn hits a double. I thought we did a really good job getting what we got. His stuff was tremendous."
"They're grinding at it, too -- that's part of baseball," Sale said of Stubbs' bunt. "It's not illegal or anything. They got something started, and it ended up winning the game for them."
Masterson improved to 3-0 against the White Sox (32-47) this season and posted his AL-best third complete game. His three shutouts this season are more than any other pitcher in the Majors. Through six innings, the right-hander had faced the minimum 18 courtesy of two double plays and Alejandro De Aza getting picked off first in the fourth by catcher Yan Gomes following a leadoff single. In all, Masterson faced three batters over the minimum, fanned eight, induced four double plays and recorded 14 outs via the ground ball.
A leadoff walk to De Aza in the seventh and Alexei Ramirez's single to left gave the White Sox their best scoring opportunity. But on a 3-1 sinker to Alex Rios, the right fielder grounded into an around-the-horn double play. Dunn's swinging strikeout ended the threat.
Rios took a called third strike with De Aza and Ramirez on base in the ninth to end the South Siders' fifth straight loss. Although Rios is mired in a 1-for-20 slump, manager Robin Ventura believes Masterson was the reason for any offensive troubles on this sunny afternoon.
"He's a good pitcher," Ventura said of Masterson. "If he's throwing what he's capable of, like today, he's tough on lefties and righties."
"We've had such great defense," Masterson said. "[The White Sox] were aggressive, took a real aggressive approach swinging early and it all comes back to those guys out there just doing their thing."
Cleveland completed its first four-game sweep of the White Sox since May 29-June 1, 1995, and the first accomplished in Chicago since Aug. 13-15, 1948. Boston was the last team to sweep a four-game set at U.S. Cellular Field, doing so Aug. 23-26, 2007.
That 2007 campaign was the last truly difficult one for the White Sox, who finished that year at 72-90. With approximately half the season left, Chicago is on pace for somewhere in the neighborhood of 96 losses, which would represent the club's worst total since it lost 97 in 1976.
Yet Sale's focus postgame was on helping this team turn around its poor fortunes. Even with a dismal 8-19 team record in June, Sale believes it's possible.
"Absolutely," Sale said. "I'm not coming in worried about who might be here, who might not be. Like I said, our focus is on turning this around and heading in the right direction."
Keeping Sale as an integral part of the White Sox through the non-waiver Trade Deadline and well beyond remains a veritable certainty. After this weekend's disappointment, the same can't be said for pretty much anyone else on the White Sox roster.
"It wasn't fun; it definitely wasn't fun," Flowers said. "We just have to keep grinding. I don't know what anybody can say about it. Find a way to win, keep grinding."