CHICAGO -- Nobody is a tougher critic of a Chris Sale start gone awry than the pitcher himself.
After the American League Cy Young Award candidate turned in his shortest start of the 2012 season Saturday, covering just 3 1/3 innings in a 10-4 loss to the Rays, the talented first-year starter actually moved to a new level of self-inflicted verbal punishment.
Sale (17-8) was asked about manager Robin Ventura's postgame assessment that the team stunk, although Ventura certainly wasn't pointing to Sale individually. The 23-year-old made that leap on his own.
"We lost the game 10-4. I got knocked out after 3 1/3 innings. That was terrible. That was a disgrace," Sale said after allowing five runs on seven hits and three walks over 82 pitches. "For him to say that we were terrible was probably putting that lightly.
"I did nothing to help the team win, put guys in positions that they shouldn't have been in. To go out and have your starter go three innings, that's a recipe for a disaster pretty much every time. The team needed me and I didn't pull it out for them. Just a frustrating day."
It was more than frustrating for the White Sox (83-75).
With Justin Verlander taking the mound for the AL Central-leading Tigers on Saturday afternoon at Target Field, it was a day where both contending teams looked to hold serve behind their respective aces. Verlander did his job against the Twins, allowing one unearned run over seven innings, and then watching his bullpen give away all but two runs of a six-run lead.
All wins add up the same, whether they were a breeze or a late-inning escape act, and the Tigers (85-73) find themselves two games up on the White Sox with four to play. The magic number to eliminate the South Siders sits at three, and with David Price, another AL Cy Young Award candidate, taking the mound Sunday, the mathematics do not add up in the White Sox favor.
"I'm not too good at math, so I'm not paying attention to that," Sale said. "We've got to grind it out and play some good baseball. Hopefully we pull it out in the end."
"We have to win every game and hope that Detroit loses a couple," White Sox right fielder Alex Rios said. "That's what has to happen."
Rios had the only two White Sox hits through seven innings against the Rays (87-71), prior to an Orlando Hudson opposite-field pinch-hit grand slam in the eighth to keep the White Sox from being shut out. This contest marked a rematch between Sale and Matt Moore from a game at Tropicana Field on May 28, a 2-1 victory for the White Sox behind 15 strikeouts for Sale. Moore was pretty good himself on that afternoon, striking out 10 but getting beat on a two-run Adam Dunn homer.
Moore (11-11) had the decided edge on Saturday, retiring the first 13 White Sox hitters he faced. He fanned four and walked two over 5 1/3 innings.
While Sale struck out seven, his effort was far different from the outing four months ago in Florida.
"Probably, just from his perspective, sharpness on his pitches," said Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon, when asked for a difference in what he saw in the two Sale outings. "Same kind of pitcher, primarily a breaking ball pitcher. Doesn't like his fastball that much, so he pitches with his breaking ball. And I would say that the last start probably [was] just sharper."
Tampa Bay stranded two runners in each of the first two innings, but broke through for three runs in the third. Ben Zobrist doubled home one run, and Jeff Keppinger's two-run shot completed the rally. The Rays added two more in the fourth, with B.J. Upton's single to right driving Sale (17-8) from the game.
This loss was Sale's first over his last 11 starts at home, as he entered Saturday with an 8-0 record and 1.45 ERA during that stretch.
Opposing hitters have posted a .347 batting average against Sale in his last three starts, during which he has allowed 11 runs on 25 hits over 17 innings. In his first 27 games, covering 26 starts, that average against was .222.
Posting a career-high 192 innings could contribute to Sale's potential mound fatigue, even with the White Sox having taken extra precautions to keep him fresh this season. Sale quickly shot down that idea after Saturday's loss.
"No chance. I felt just as good as any time out," Sale said. "I felt strong, just was all over the place. Just didn't throw strikes. Gave up hits at the wrong times and they capitalized on my mistakes. I just didn't do anything to help myself or help the team."
"We were real excited after the first couple innings," White Sox catcher Tyler Flowers said. "You get in jams like that, and you get out of them like we did, it seems like it's going to be a good day. That one inning kind of steamrolled on us. One thing led to another, and then before you know it, homer, and he's out of there."
Sunday's series finale also marks the White Sox regular-season home finale, before they go on the road to Cleveland. Those games vs. the Indians will be the season's final three for the Sox if they struggle like they did Saturday, by Ventura's estimation.
"It's pretty simple. We did [stink]," said Ventura, whose team is 2-9 in its last 11 games. "We didn't hit. Everybody that came off the bench seemed to hit or do something. That's just the way it goes. Anything [still] can happen. And again, we're coming in ready to play."