CHICAGO -- Just think where the White Sox would be if Chris Sale's argumentative skills weren't somewhere in line with his exceptional pitching talent.
If Sale never convinced White Sox general manager Ken Williams, manager Robin Ventura, pitching coach Don Cooper, head athletic trainer Herm Schneider and other members of the organization's front office and coaching staff that soreness temporarily moving him to the bullpen back in early May was of the normal starting variety, then the White Sox would not have a rotation stopper who has posted victories after six White Sox losses.
His latest exceptional effort came on Saturday, as Sale shut down the Astros with eight scoreless innings, and the White Sox won, 10-1, before 22,880 at U.S. Cellular Field. Sale extended his scoreless innings streak to 15, improving to 8-2 overall, and 5-0 with a 0.98 ERA in his last five starts, covering 36 2/3 innings.
His American League-leading ERA dipped to 2.05. Only Atlanta's Brandon Beachy (1.98) has a lower ERA. Sale has yet to allow more than three runs in any of his 11 starts.
About the only moment of concern in Sale's start came in the sixth inning, when Jed Lowrie ripped a hard grounder back to the mound that caught Sale in the left heel on a short hop. Sale tumbled to the ground as the ball ricocheted to first baseman Paul Konerko, but after gathering himself, the southpaw stayed in the game.
White Sox fans across the country collectively held their breath until Sale threw his next pitch. Even Sale had to laugh after the initial scare.
"It was kind of comical after the panic went away," Sale said. "It didn't hurt or anything like that, but that ball was smoked.
"You gotta get out of the way of it. But yeah, I'll continue to keep looking unathletic out there as a fielder and trying to dodge balls."
The Astros (25-34) managed just four hits, all singles, as Sale struck out seven and didn't issue a walk. In his last five starts, Sale has 43 strikeouts and seven walks, and has held opposing hitters to a .150 average.
Zach Stewart worked the ninth with the White Sox (33-26) holding a 10-run cushion and Sale sitting at 101 pitches. Stewart gave up a leadoff homer to Lowrie and heard a few jeers from the crowd, who probably weren't as mad about the long ball as they were about not getting to see Sale for another inning.
"He's a good pitcher," said Astros manager Brad Mills of Sale. "You just look at what he's done so far. In the month of May he was pretty outstanding, and he was pretty outstanding today."
"I'll tell you the most impressive thing that he's doing is he'll throw a fastball 87 mph, and then 95 mph. He's not just throwing now," said White Sox designated hitter Adam Dunn of his 23-year-old teammate. "He's pitching. For him to figure it out so quick, he's not max effort every single time. He's pitching, it's scary."
Dunn was part of a top-three trio in the White Sox lineup that was pretty darn scary itself for Houston starter Jordan Lyles (1-2) and four relievers. Alejandro De Aza, Gordon Beckham and Dunn combined to finish 9-for-14 with five runs scored, one homer and nine RBIs.
De Aza tied a career-high with four hits, giving him five multi-hit games out of seven played in June. He is hitting .432 with six RBIs, and nine runs scored over his last 11 games.
Beckham knocked out three hits and drove in three, while Dunn capped off the victory with a 414-foot grand slam to straightaway center off of Rhiner Cruz in the eighth inning. It was Dunn's 12th career grand slam and first since July 25, 2009 with Washington, tying him with White Sox first-base coach Harold Baines for 58th place on the all-time home run list at 384.
Having Sale on the mound also affects the offense in a positive manner, letting the hitters know they don't need to score much to get the win.
"He's been outstanding all year long, and when he's on the mound, obviously we have all the confidence in the world," Dunn said. "We know if we score him a few runs, then normally it's going to be good enough. We were able to bust out tonight."
"Any time he pitches, whether you won or lost [the day before], you feel like you're going to win his game," Ventura said. "He just continues to go out and be consistent."
During his three years with the White Sox, the lanky left-hander has transformed from a first-round Draft pick to a hard-throwing late-inning reliever to a rotation stalwart. And Sale, the debate winner, also has produced Sale, the White Sox stopper, helping the White Sox stay atop the American League Central for another night, and maybe much longer.
With these amazing 2012 statistics attached to Sale's name, could there soon be Sale, the AL All-Star and possibly All-Star starter? It's not an area of concern for Sale, with four or five starts remaining before the first half closes.
"That would be awesome. You always think about those things as a kid, stuff like that," said Sale of making the All-Star team. "But at the same time, we got a ways to go before any of that stuff even starts happening.
"If I start looking toward that, I'll lose focus of what I got in front of me, and what I got in front of me is Los Angeles right now. I'm going to start preparing for that one tomorrow."