With his head down and a straight face, Chris Sale walked to the dugout in the eighth inning Monday before acknowledging the ovation coming from the stands at U.S. Cellular Field with a slight tip of his cap.
The left-hander didn't much let on while he was on the field for his second opening-day start, but he and the White Sox experienced some fun and some relief in finally taking a step into a new season with a 5-3 victory over the Twins.
Certainly nobody was claiming the rebirth of Sox success after one victory, but they were able to pinpoint some positives, which was not always easy in a 2013 season of 99 losses.
"Everyone who was a part of that last year has a little chip on their shoulder," Sale said. "We have something to prove, not only to everyone else but to ourselves. Getting a win today was big for us, and we'll just keep making strides from there."
Sale pitched 7 1/3 innings, allowing five hits and three earned runs, walking one and striking out eight in his second career victory on opening day. He struck out four of the final five batters he faced and retired 11 of his final 12, but for a double by Aaron Hicks to start the eighth inning.
Newly named closer Matt Lindstrom earned his first save since 2011, after allowing one hit in a scoreless ninth inning.
"I like where we're at," Sale said of his pitching. "My slider was probably a tick off today, but my changeup was a little better than it usually is. [Catcher Tyler Flowers] and I worked together and got out of it alive."
Afterward, Sox manager Robin Ventura said Sale's increased maturity and experience have made the pitcher who turned 25 on Sunday "as good as anyone in the league."
"We feel confident when we go out there with him," Ventura said.
Sale didn't always have the run support he needed in going 11-14 with a 3.07 ERA last season, but he rattled off a list of players who helped provide it Monday – Alejandro De Aza, Jose Abreu and Adam Eaton.
De Aza, playing in left field, hit two home runs to become the first Sox player to hit multiple homers on opening day since Jim Thome did so at Cleveland in 2008. In his first major league game, Abreu had two hits, including a double, a run and an RBI, and Eaton, playing his first Sox game, was 2-for-4 with a run.
"It's nice when you come out with your guys hitting," Sale said.