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updated: 8/26/2012 12:57 AM

The phenom in our midst -- Chris Sale

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  • White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski knows hitters are fooled by some of Chris Sale's pitches, but they're not alone. Pierzynski said he doesn't know whether Sale's fastball is going tail in or out, or what speed it will come at him.

      White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski knows hitters are fooled by some of Chris Sale's pitches, but they're not alone. Pierzynski said he doesn't know whether Sale's fastball is going tail in or out, or what speed it will come at him.
    Associated Press

 
 

"We love to watch young pitchers dominate grown men."

Former Mets pitcher and current broadcaster Ron Darling told me that years ago, and it stuck with me. Like music prodigies since Mozart, or a first-time film director who wins an Oscar, precocious and skilled youth tantalizes.

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The first time I was conscious of the baseball phenomena was with Darling's teammate -- Doc Gooden -- in 1985, when he won pitching's triple crown and laid claim to one of the best seasons anyone has ever seen.

Here, we all recall the feeling when Kerry Wood arrived with a 20-strikeout bang. Maybe Mark Prior in 2003 did it for you, though the stains of history can disfigure the memories.

Chris Sale is bringing more pitching joy and awe to this baseball town than anyone since Kid K.

The marquee moment of Sale's first season as a starter had been the 15-strikeout performance in Tampa Bay on May 28. But considering the opponent and the lateness of this pennant-chasing season, Wednesday's start against the Yankees tops it.

Sliders buckled the knees of an MVP contender. Changeups froze a Hall of Fame bound shortstop. And then there's the pitch we usually measure too simply by speed. A.J. Pierzynski spoke about the intricacies of Sale's heater.

"I'll call a fastball ... you guys get on his velocity sometimes, I'll call one, he'll throw it 85, the next one will be 94. One cuts, one sinks, one goes straight. It's a guessing game for me out there also."

So along with the wondrous arm, there's movement, speed variance, late action. This kid knows what he's doing, and it's why he's in the Cy Young conversation.

With his ERA of 2.65, and a strikeouts-per-9 innings rate of nearly 9, it's the most dominating White Sox pitcher we've seen since, well, when?

Mark Buehrle was steadily excellent, but not overpowering like this.

Journeyman Esteban Loaiza's 21-win effort in 2003 was great, but it seemed to come with doubt and surprise every 5 days.

Jack McDowell was a tremendous battler, and an innings eater, but he never had an ERA under 3 and had only one season with a K/9 rate above 7.

You could argue that Alex Fernandez and Wilson Alvarez had stretches of more pure dominance.

The closest, at least abstractly, may be a two-season partial stretch for Jose Contreras. The Sox won 14 of his last 16 starts to finish 2005, and he started 2006 at 9-0.

You knew you had to find a good TV when that Contreras took the mound.

But for Sale, just throw away the remote control.

The competition

Sale's rivals for the AL Cy Young Award include Justin Verlander, Felix Hernandez and Jered Weaver.

But everyone is a small step behind David Price, whose major stats are all elite.

A glance at his game log reveals this astonishment: In each of his last 12 starts (and in 17 of 19), Price has gone at least 7 innings and allowed no more than 3 earned runs. That's preposterous.

MLB Jeopardy

I'll take aged Red Sox starters for $500, Alex.

The buzz may be about 50-year-old Roger Clemens throwing in Houston's Atlantic League for the Sugarland Skeeters with apparent dreams of a comeback, but allow me to draw your focus westward.

Bill "Spaceman" Lee won a game for his hometown San Rafael (Calif.) Pacifics on Thursday night, throwing 69 of his 94 pitches for strikes. He went all 9 innings, and also singled in a run.

At 65, Bill Lee is the oldest man to ever win a professional baseball game.

"I just solidified myself as the best old guy on the planet," Lee said.

Anyone want to argue that?

•Matt Spiegel co-hosts "The McNeil & Spiegel Show" 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday-Friday on WSCR 670-AM, and The Score's "Hit and Run" at 9 a.m. Sundays with his Daily Herald colleague, Barry Rozner. Follow him on Twitter @mattspiegel670

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