White Sox ace Chris Sale christened the 2016 season with eight strikeouts on Monday night, holding the A's to three runs across seven innings to help Chicago pull out a 4-3 victory on Opening Day at the Coliseum.
Run-scoring hits from Adam Eaton and Jimmy Rollins highlighted a four-run third inning for the White Sox, who gave three right back in the bottom half when Jed Lowrie notched a two-run single and Danny Valencia tacked on an RBI base hit, but Chicago held on the rest of the way to secure the opener of the four-game series.
"That's part of going through this. These guys have been battle-tested, as far as the bullpen," White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. "They've always had close games. We haven't had a real big offense in the last few years, so they're used to it. They're used to real close games."
"It was a hard-fought game, it really was," Sale said. "It was a battle the whole time. It was just nice to start off with a win."
A's left-hander Rich Hill, pitching in place of an ill Sonny Gray, endured a forgettable debut in the green and gold, lasting just 2 2/3 innings while allowing four runs (two earned) on three hits, one walk and two hit batters. Oakland's bullpen combined for 6 1/3 scoreless innings thereafter.
"It was just the deep counts I got myself into and the inability to go deep in the game," Hill said. "That's disappointing for myself and obviously the reason why we lost the game."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Third is the word: The White Sox made the most of their offense in Game 1 behind a four-run third inning. They knocked out four hits in the frame, including a run-scoring single from Rollins, who was playing in his hometown of Oakland. Through six, the White Sox had the one explosive frame and five hitless innings.
Two-out trouble: Hill should've been out of the third inning, and with only two runs to his name, but a potential inning-ending ground ball resulted in two runs when first basemanMark Canha couldn't haul in a high throw from shortstop Marcus Semien. The error went to Canha, and Hill was promptly removed from the game with his pitch count sitting at 66.
"That's what happens when you give extra outs. Can't do that," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "We learned that last year. We've learned it this spring. In close games, it typically ends up being a play like that, a play or two defensively that you should make. We've talked about the routine plays ... and we don't execute the one play that cost us two runs, cost us the game."
Abreu with the D:Jose Abreu has carved out a niche as one of the American League's better hitters, and he knocked out a double during the Chicago's four-run third. But he also flashed some leather at first base on Monday, including a play on Stephen Vogt down the line to prevent extra bases to open the seventh.
Relief in sight: Hill's short outing afforded the A's a chance to get a long look at their reconstructed bullpen, which responded with fantastic work to keep the club in the game -- highlighted by Ryan Dull's two perfect innings. Dull, Fernando Rodriguez, John Axford,Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle limited the White Sox to four hits in 6 1/3 innings.
QUOTABLE "You bring in those guys, Petey and Duke and Jonesy and D-Rob, they've got big arms. It's fun to watch. I'm glad they're on my side." -- Sale, on the bullpen work over the final two innings
EATON DOESN'T WAIT Eaton didn't drive in a run last season until his 109th plate appearance. He waited all the way until his second at-bat in 2016, when the right fielder tripled home Austin Jackson. It also was the White Sox first hit of the season.
"To start the season with a win on the road is special. It's good to see," Eaton said. "We got off on the right foot the right way, with a big inning. And to have solid pitching toward the tail end, it's a good sign for us."
AFTER FURTHER REVIEW The White Sox challenged a ninth-inning ruling that Brett Lawrie was out at second after he was picked off at first by Doolittle. After video replay, the call was confirmed, ending the top of the ninth.
WHAT'S NEXT White Sox: One of the most underrated players in the game, Jose Quintana, begins his fourth season as part of the White Sox starting rotation and fifth season with the team overall. Quintana holds the dubious honor of 52 no-decisions since 2012, ranking tops in the Majors. He'll make his 2016 debut on Tuesday in a 9:05 p.m. CT matchup with the A's.
A's: The A's could have their ace, Gray, back on the mound for Tuesday's 7:05 p.m. PT matchup. Gray was scheduled to start Opening Day but was scratched because of food poisoning. If he's held out another day, right-hander Chris Bassitt will likely draw the start at the Coliseum.