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Coming into Saturday night's start against the Angels, White Sox ace Chris Sale had allowed just one run on three hits in 18 innings since coming off the disabled list in late May. Saturday night, he didn't allow a hit to the Angels until Josh Hamilton led off the fifth with a single, and didn't allow a run until the bottom of the eighth, when Erick Aybar led off with a hustle double and Chris Iannetta singled him home. That run was just the second Sale had ever allowed to the Angels in 31 career innings, but it wouldn't be the last on this night as Sale and the White Sox's fortunes were about to change dramatically.
With his White Sox still holding a 5-1 lead after Iannetta's RBI single, Sale got the Angels ninth-place hitter, Collin Cowgill, to ground to shortstop on his next pitch. However, the normally slick-fielding Alexei Ramirez, perhaps in a rush to start the double play, couldn't get the ball out of his glove and failed to get even one out. When Howie Kendrick followed with a single, the bases were loaded for Mike Trout.
Sale had thrown 108 pitches by that point, and even if you count the Ramirez error as an out, five of the last seven batters Sale had faced had reached base. At that point, a figure emerged from the visiting dugout at Angel Stadium, but it wasn't White Sox manager Robin Ventura, it was pitching coach Don Cooper. Sale was staying in to face Trout.
There's a certain logic to that. Who would you rather have face one of the best hitters in baseball in a big situation other than one of the best pitchers in baseball? The counter argument is Sale was a tired pitcher who lacked the platoon advantage in a high-leverage confrontation with a power hitter representing the tying run.
Either way, the confrontation between Sale and Trout was a treat for baseball fans of any stripe. Sale still had the pop on his fastball and got ahead 0-2 right away with a pair of mid-90s heaters Trout could only foul away. After a fastball way up and in that brushed Trout back and a changeup low and far away evened the count at 2-2, Sale came back with another mid-90s fastball at the top of the zone Trout fouled back. Sale then missed high and away with another fastball to run the count full. In that situation, Sale and catcher Tyler Flowers agreed the next pitch should be a changeup below the zone. The hope there was Trout would either swing-and-miss, hit a ground ball, or take ball four, none of those outcomes being disastrous for a pitcher with a four-run lead.
Sale threw the exact pitch he wanted, a changup below the zone on the outside part of the plate ten miles per hour slower than his last fastball. Trout went down and go it and hit it nearly 400 feet off the rocks beyond the wall in left center for a game-tying grand slam.
Sale, removed from the game after that pitch, was not pleased.
Reliever Jake Petricka came in and struck out Albert Pujols and got David Freese to ground out for the first two outs of the inning, but then gave up three consecutive two-out singles to Josh Hamilton (3-for-4 on the night), C.J. Cron, and Aybar, to put the Angels up 6-5. Ernesto Frieri worked a perfect ninth inning for the save.
Per FanGraphs' win-expectancy chart of the game, the Angels had a two-percent chance of winning the game heading into the bottom of the ninth. By the end of that half inning, that chance had increased to 84 percent. Meanwhile, here's where Trout made contact with that pitch.
Mike Trout is good at baseball.