CHICAGO — Chris Sale knew he wasn’t going the distance anyway. Even so, he felt a sense of relief when he finally gave up that hit — the only one he allowed.
Sale retired 18 of 19 batters over six scoreless innings in his return from an arm injury, and the Chicago White Sox beat the New York Yankees 3-2 on Thursday night.
The left-hander retired the first 17 hitters after missing more than a month because of a flexor strain in his pitching arm, and Chicago hung on after New York’s Mark Teixeira singled in two runs against Ronald Belisario in the ninth.
The White Sox couldn’t have asked for more of their ace.
An All-Star the past two seasons, Sale (4-0) struck out 10 and didn’t even come close to allowing a runner until Zoilo Almonte — a .167 hitter entering the game — lined a single to center with two out in the sixth.
Sale then struck out Jacoby Ellsbury and called it a night after throwing 86 pitches.
"I don’t think I was ever more excited to give up a hit in my life," he said. "(Manager Robin Ventura) said the same thing, `You picked a bad night to do something like that.’ It was all in fun, we were just joking around."
Sale would have been finished after six, perfect game or not. The White Sox weren’t about to stretch their best pitcher after about a five-week layoff, and he insisted he would not have lobbied to stay in even if it was still going.
"We have a plan," Sale said. "We have something set in stone. I pitch to win. I don’t pitch for no-hitters or perfect games. I would have fully understood. I wouldn’t have liked it, but do I respect it? Absolutely."
Zach Putnam retired the side in the seventh, and Daniel Webb worked a perfect eighth before Belisario nearly blew it in the ninth.
He gave up a one-out single to pinch hitter Ichiro Suzuki and walked Derek Jeter. After the runners moved up on a passed ball, Teixeira drove them in with a single up the middle. Belisario then struck out Alfonso Soriano looking at a 3-2 pitch up and in for his second save in three attempts.
"I know the umpire, they have a tough job, it’s not easy being an umpire," Soriano said. "That ball is up and in. I never said anything to the umpire, but that pitch is a ball."
He said he saw a replay and added: "It’s a bad call, but nothing you can do."
David Phelps (1-1) was a tough-luck loser for New York, allowing two runs over seven innings. He struck out eight and walked one. But one rough inning was the difference.
The White Sox scored two with two out in the second on an RBI double by Alejandro De Aza and run-scoring single by Adam Eaton to go up 2-0. Chicago added to the lead in the eighth, when Gordon Beckham led off with a double high off the right-field wall against Alfredo Aceves and scored on Adam Dunn’s two-out single, and that was enough for the win.
Sale had the Yankees lunging and looking at pitches on the corner and at the knees, doing everything but make solid contact. He struck out the side in the first and third innings along with the first two batters in the fourth — not bad for a guy who hadn’t pitched since April 17.
In that game, Sale tossed one-hit ball over seven innings against Boston. He felt sore the next day after throwing 127 pitches and wound up going on the disabled list on April 22.
"I don’t think there’s anybody he can go up against where we feel like we’re behind the eight-ball going in or we’re the underdogs," Paul Konerko said. "There’s definitely some pitchers in the league that have the same type of ring to their name and the same type of makeup and stuff. But we’re just fortunate we’ve got one of them."
Yankees manager Joe Girardi said RHP Michael Pineda, recovering from a back injury, will throw to hitters on Saturday. "He’s progressing like we want," Girardi said. "Everything’s going according to plan." Pineda was suspended 10 days for having pine tar on his neck in a game at Boston and then injured a muscle in his upper back pitching a simulated game April 29, during his ban. … Girardi also said he thinks reliever Shawn Kelley will "try to do something next week." The right-hander had a setback in his recovery from a back injury when he woke up feeling stiff Tuesday after playing catch at Yankee Stadium the previous day.