CHICAGO -- Chris Sale was not going to throw the first perfect game or no-hitter of his career Thursday night against the Yankees at U.S. Cellular Field.
That fate was decided well before Zoilo Almonte singled to center on a 1-1 fastball from Sale (4-0) in the sixth inning, ending his stretch of 17 straight retired.
It was a decision manager Robin Ventura informed the media of after a 3-2 White Sox victory after letting Sale know of his pitch and innings limit prior to his return to the mound. After missing exactly five weeks since his last start on April 17 because of a flexor muscle strain in his left arm that produced his first trip to the disabled list, the plan for Sale's return did not include 100 pitches.
Then again, Sale being perfect also wasn't part of the equation.
"He was fantastic tonight," said Ventura of his staff ace, who gave way to Zach Putnam after 86 pitches and six innings. "He was probably as sharp as we've seen him, but we knew he wasn't going to go nine innings."
"I don't think I've ever been more excited to give up a hit in my life," said Sale, drawing laughter from the assembled media. "I knew I was done after that sixth, and Robin said the same thing. He goes, 'You picked a bad night to do something like that.'"
Of course, Ventura was having a little fun with Sale, but there certainly was no laughing coming from the Yankees (24-22).
Over his last three starts, including Friday's injury rehab appearance for Triple-A Charlotte, Sale has allowed three hits in 17 innings, while walking five and striking out 31.
His fastball topped out at 96 mph in the first inning Thursday per MLB.com Gameday but still was hitting 95 in the sixth. Sale struck out the side in the first and in the third, and with two more strikeouts in the fourth, fanned five in a row at one point.
His 12th game of 10 strikeouts or more ties Alex Fernandez for fourth most in franchise history. Fernandez accomplished this feat in 197 starts, while Thursday night marked Sale's 64th.
Statistics aren't what drives Sale, even as he becomes the first White Sox southpaw to start 4-0 since Mark Buehrle in '09. This fact became evident by Sale reacting with total ease when asked how upset he would have been if the perfect game was still going into the seventh.
"We had a plan, something set in stone," Sale said. "I pitch to win, I don't pitch for no-hitters and perfect games. I wouldn't have liked it, but I respect it absolutely. When you have something you're trying to accomplish, you stay the course."
"He's a good pitcher," said Yankees right fielder Alfonso Soriano. "He's got a very good fastball and a good changeup and a slider and he pitched a very good game tonight, so we have to give a lot of credit to him."
It wasn't exactly an abundance of offense for the White Sox against David Phelps (1-1). They scored their first two runs in the second after two were out on doubles from Paul Konerko and Alejandro De Aza and Adam Eaton's single to left. Phelps struck out eight over seven innings and retired the last 10 he faced.
Adam Dunn singled home Gordon Beckham with what looked to be an eighth-inning insurance run, but what turned out to be important when Ronald Belisario (second save) allowed two runs in the ninth. Soriano was the go-ahead run at the plate when he took a borderline 3-2 pitch for a called third strike and the South Siders' seventh straight home win against the Yankees dating back to '12.
The late-inning histrionics couldn't overshadow Sale's pure brilliance. He struck out four Yankees with his fastball, three with his slider and three with his changeup. It was a 10-strikeout night the White Sox patiently waited for but also eagerly anticipated.
"Getting back into it for him, when you're sitting on the DL and you're watching guys play, you miss it," Ventura said. "He enjoys pitching and he was excited. He was truly this excited even the other day when he threw his side session and we figured out it was going to be today. He wants to compete and the Yankees come in here and it makes it a little bit better to be at home."
"Sale is Sale. It's good just to have him back around," Konerko said. "The last two days he's been in the clubhouse and with the team and he's good for a lot of reasons, but none more than when he's on the mound."
Pitch counts for Sale will steadily rise, with his next start set for Tuesday at home against the Indians. Ventura even admitted that 127 pitches, Sale's total from his last start against Boston, is not out of the question somewhere down the road.
In the interim, Ventura smiled and hoped that Sale soon made him make another decision such as the one he almost faced Thursday. Sale was more than happy to settle for near-perfection in his comeback.
"I'm happier than anyone else probably in the world right now that I'm pitching again," Sale said. "I love those guys in the training room, but that's not it, that's not where I want to be. It's nice to get back out and start on the right foot and hopefully keep this going."