Chris Sale was 9 when he attended his first Tampa Bay Rays game, which was actually the first-ever Devil Rays game. The Lakeland native came with an uncle one day after his birthday and witnessed a bushel full of firsts for both the organization and Tropicana Field.
On Monday, pitching for the visiting Chicago White Sox, Sale turned in another Tropicana Field first when he struck out 15 in the White Sox 2-1 victory in front of a Memorial Day crowd of 22,227.
"Coming back to Florida where your friends and family are here to support you, it was awesome," Sale said.
The 23-year-old left-hander, making only his ninth major league start, pitched in the 1,157th game at the Trop and topped the previous mark for strikeouts in the building of 14, set July 7, 2009, by Boston's Pedro Martinez.
That game featured two bench-clearing brawls and eight no-hit innings by Martinez.
Today's game was not quite as dramatic. Sale allowed three hits and a run in 7 1/3 innings. He fell a strikeout shy of the White Sox team record of 16 in a game held by Jack Harshman. As it is, Sale is tied for second with Hall of Famer Ed Walsh, who struck out 15 on two occasions, Jim Scott and Ed Cicotte.
"I don't know what it was like facing Randy Johnson when he was young, but this kid, he's going to be great, and I think he has a real bright future as a starter," Rays right fielder Ben Zobrist said.
Zobrist had two hits off Sale, and, of course, the obligatory strikeout. The rest of the lineup, which did not include Luke Scott and Matt Joyce and saw Carlos Peña come off the bench for one at-bat, was 1-for-22 with 14 strikeouts.
The other Rays hit belonged to Jose Lobaton, who was activated from the disabled list today and served as the designated hitter. Lobaton singled Zobrist home in the fourth inning for Tampa Bay's lone run and his first big league RBI.
Rays starter Matt Moore turned in his best performance of the season, striking out 10 batters in a career-high seven innings.
"I knew they had been swinging good bats in the series before this, but it was really just a matter of the fastball and the changeup, especially through the first four innings," Moore said
Moore didn't go to his curveball until the second time through the order. By then, he had the White Sox batters off balance by mixing all his pitches and locations – up and down, in and out.
But the 22-year-old Moore allowed a long, two-run homer to Adam Dunn in the sixth inning that traveled an estimated 448 feet and one-hopped the wall behind the right field stands and was the difference in the game.
"It's tough to keep a 1-0 lead. Matt pitched a phenomenal game for us, couldn't have asked for anything more," Zobrist said. "But Chris Sale pitched a great game, too."
Together, Sale and Moore recorded the most strikeouts by starting pitchers in the majors since Sept. 20, 2009, when Florida's Ricky Nolasco (16 strikeouts) and Atlanta's Javier Vazquez (nine) also combined for 25.
It was the most combined strikeouts by starting pitchers in an American League game since May 6, 2000, when Martinez (17) and Tampa Bay's Steve Trachsel (11) combined for 28.
According to Elias, the last time two starters 23 or younger combined for 25 strikeouts was July 31, 1901, when the Chicago Orphans' Tom Hughes (15) and Cincinnati's Noodles Hahn (11) turned the trick. The last time starters 23 or younger each had at least 10 strikeouts was July 21, 1971, when Cleveland's Steve Dunning struck out 10 and Oakland's Vida Blue fanned 11.
Shortstop Elliot Johnson was the only starter not to strikeout. Peña, who leads the team and is second in the American League with 61 strikeouts, grounded to second in his only at-bat against Sale.
"He was in the strike zone. He made a pitch when he had to. He just pitched really well," center fielder B.J. Upton said.
Upton, who was 0-for-4 with three strikeouts and saw his 10-game hitting streak end, said the Rays batters felt they would eventually get to Sale.
"I think we all felt like after we saw him a couple of times it would turn around," Upton said, "but it didn't turn out that way."