By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — After a pitching duel between White Sox left-hander Chris Sale and Tigers right-hander Justin Verlander on Monday afternoon at U.S. Cellular Field, it was the team that had more to play for that prevailed in 11 innings.
Detroit outfielder Justin Upton hit a three-run homer to break a 2-2 tie in the 11th, and the Tigers held on for a 5-3 win against the White Sox. Upton’s blast came after White Sox catcher Alex Avila, a former Tiger, hit the game-tying homer off Verlander in the seventh inning to the opposite field.
Avila spent the first seven years of his career in Detroit, and he sees the difference in the two teams in the here and now.
“They are going through a September run,” Avila said. “They can sort of sense it over there. Every game means something for them. I have been through that feeling before, having been on that side.”
Sale allowed two runs in eight strong innings while throwing 118 pitches. The only hitter he couldn’t handle was Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera, who accounted for four of the six hits Sale allowed with two homers and two singles. Sale struck out eight and walked none.
“I have to say he is one of the best there is,” Sale said. “Look on the back of his card, there are some pretty awesome numbers. It is back and forth with him, and I really enjoy the competition. Would I have preferred not to give up two home runs to him? Yeah, but it does make for good competition.”
Chicago is 5-12 against Detroit this season and now 22-35 in the AL Central.
“The one thing you always stress is beating the teams in your division,” Avila said. “We have struggled with that this year. That is why we are in the position we are in.”
The White Sox (65-72) haven’t had a winning record in the AL Central since 2012. Sale has now competed in the division for seven years and has yet to participate in playoff baseball in a Chicago uniform.
“I can tell you top to bottom, nobody is happy about it,” Sale said of another season that’s fallen short of expectations. “It falls on us mostly. You just have to look yourself in the mirror and try to see what we can do to change it. Everybody does, from top to bottom. We have to find a way to be better next year. You have to hold your head up high. We do have to change something.”
That change Sale is talking about may include him being shopped in the offseason for a boatload of talent from another organization. For now, Sale pitched at least eight innings for his fourth straight outing, the first time he’s ever put together such a streak.
“It’s hard to look at stuff like that when you have been going through what we have as a team,” Sale said. “I really don’t look too far into personal stats. Some guy will have really bad stats on the World Series team. I would trade mine with him.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.