By Mark Gonzales, Chicago Tribune reporter
8:52 PM CDT, April 1, 2013
A more polished Chris Sale and a promising Tyler Flowers warmed the spirits of a chilled sellout crowd trying to rid itself of the White Sox's frustrating finish seven months ago.
With the confidence of a changeup to complement his 94 mph fastball and wicked slider, Sale added another dimension Monday against a Royals team that handed him three of his eight losses during his 17-win 2012 season.
And in addition to handling Sale with ease behind the plate, Flowers validated the front office's faith that he'll provide more power than predecessor and fan favorite A.J. Pierzynski by homering off James Shields in the fifth inning.
Those contributions, along with exceptional defense, enabled the Sox to seize a 1-0 victory in the season opener at U.S. Cellular Field.
Solving a Royals team that beat them 12 of 18 times in 2012 is the first step for a Sox team trying to earn respect after finishing three games out of first place in the American League Central last season.
"I guess you'll get respect when you go out and earn respect," said Jake Peavy, who will pitch Wednesday.
Sale, 24, showed he's closer to becoming an opening-day fixture than a one-year wonder as he struck out seven in 72/3 innings.
He wasn't afraid to employ his changeup more in the later innings.
"He is a little more fine now where he can hit that outside corner a little more to right-handers," Flowers said.
Unlike last year, Sale isn't on a strict innings limit, and manager Robin Ventura marveled that Sale was able to get through 72/3 innings with 104 pitches.
"I looked up to see how many pitches he had in the fifth or sixth, and last year it probably would've been 20 pitches higher," Ventura said. "I think it's maturity that allows him to do that."
Sale was just as complimentary of Flowers, 27, who has been touted as the catcher of the future since the Sox acquired him from the Braves after the 2008 season but didn't get a chance to start until Pierzynski's departure this winter.
"Not only defensively was he there, but what better way to win a 1-0 ballgame than for your partner in crime to put it in the seats," Sale said. "It was fun to watch, and I was excited for him. He really picked us up and won the game for us."
One of the staples of the Sox's 2012 success — defense — remained intact. Second baseman Gordon Beckham made a leaping catch to rob Lorenzo Cain of a hit that would have moved the tying run into scoring position in the seventh.
And Jeff Keppinger, whose time at third base was limited in spring training while he recovered from ankle and arm injuries, quickly fielded and threw to retire Alex Gordon for the second out in the eighth.
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