The slender, 6-foot-6 Chicago pitcher allowed a two-run homer to Miguel Olivo, but little else in a complete-game victory over Seattle.
CHICAGO — Close wasn’t going to cut it for Kevin Millwood and the Mariners on a day they had precious little wiggle room.
Not with an opposing left-hander, Chris Sale of the Chicago White Sox, rapidly cutting a swath through American League hitters. Sale had it going again on Sunday and Millwood and company just couldn’t keep things close enough in taking a 4-2 defeat in a series finale.
The Mariners had just three hits through eight innings, then couldn’t come through against Sale — the AL’s Pitcher of the Month for May — with a runner on in the ninth. That they could even get the tying run to the plate was quite miraculous, given the lack of offense and an early exit by Millwood after four innings.
“I knew there wasn’t going to be much room for error,” Millwood said afterward.
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And by his own admission, he made too many of those on a day he walked four batters, hit another, uncorked a wild pitch and needed 95 pitches just to get through the four frames. He did the best he could with a fastball that wasn’t going where he needed it to and managed not to get blown out early in front of 23,062 fans at U.S. Cellular Field.
“Once again, I wasn’t locating my fastball very well,” Millwood said. “I think, for the most part, I was able to keep the ball on the ground, anyways. But they just found some holes, I walked too many guys and just wasn’t able to make pitches when I needed to.”
And that was the difference in a game in which Sale needed 119 pitches to get a five-hit, complete-game victory. The only runs he allowed came on a 448-foot bomb hit by Miguel Olivo over the wall in straight-away center field with Justin Smoak on base after a walk. That gave the Mariners a 2-0 lead in the second inning.
But then Millwood gave the White Sox a bunch of runs and the Mariners couldn’t make them back up.
Sale had struck out 15 in beating the Tampa Bay Rays his last time out. The 6-foot-6 left-hander had a fastball clocked as high as 97 mph in that game, while also using a devastating slider that comes in at a near-impossible angle for left-handed batters to get wood on.
Hs lanky frame and the way he delivers the ball makes it very tough for hitters to pick up on his pitches until it’s too late.
The Mariners had seen some of that in a game in April, when he struck out 11 over 6-1/3 innings en route to an easy win.
On Sunday, Dustin Ackley went down on strikes his first two times up before singling with two out in the ninth. But Olivo could not duplicate his home-run heroics and struck out in a nine-pitch at-bat to end the contest.
“He’s always tough throwing from that angle,” Ackley said of Sale. “It’s tough to pick up and when you do, it’s right on you. And the slider’s a really good pitch.”
The Mariners had scored 45 runs their past four games with a disciplined plate approach that made opposing pitchers throw them hittable strikes. But Sale was throwing tough-to-hit strikes when he needed.
“When he’s in command like that, he’s not really going to walk many guys,” Ackley said. “So, you just go up there and look to hit a fastball early. If not, you just battle as best you can and look to put a fastball in play.”
That’s what Olivo did in pummeling Sale’s second pitch to him for a home run in the second.
But Millwood gave a run right back in the bottom of the inning on a bases-loaded walk to Brent Lillibridge. Millwood somehow got out of the inning with no further damage, but began the third with a walk, a hit batsman and then an Alex Rios RBI single up the middle that tied it 2-2.
The Mariners again escaped further damage when Millwood struck out Orlando Hudson and got Alexei Ramirez to ground into a double play. But Millwood allowed two singles to start the fourth, then a one-out single to Gordon Beckham that gave Chicago the lead.
Rios then grounded one hard toward the mound that Millwood deflected with his leg. Brendan Ryan came up with the ball and nearly made an impossible play to nab Rios, who just beat the throw for an infield single that made it 4-2.
And that was it for scoring.
The way Sale was throwing, all the pertinent damage had been done.
“The bullpen kept us in the ballgame,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “We were just a couple of swings away, but their kid just didn’t make any mistakes today, for the most part.”
Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or firstname.lastname@example.org.