It was an epic battle between baseball's best all-around player and one of the game's most dominant left-handers, a 13-pitch showdown that provided one of the few Angels highlights in an 8-2 loss to the Chicago White Sox in U.S. Cellular Field on Monday night.
Angels center fielder Mike Trout outlasted White Sox ace Chris Sale in the fourth inning, fouling off seven two-strike pitches — five that traveled 97 mph or faster — before taking the 13th pitch, a 98-mph fastball, for ball four, the longest plate appearance in the careers of both players.
"You don't want to do that too often, but I enjoy things like that," Sale, a four-time All-Star, said after limiting the Angels to two runs and five hits in 7 1/3 innings to improve to 10-7 with a 3.47 earned-run average for the season.
"When you're up against the best, you find out what you're made of. I walked him, so I really don't know what that means for me, but it's something you look back on and realize you enjoy."
Trout, a four-time All-Star and the 2014 American League most valuable player, doubled to left field in the first, only his third hit in 12 career at-bats against Sale. The Angels were trailing, 2-0, when Trout led off the fourth.
The at-bat started routinely enough, with Trout taking a 93-mph fastball for a strike, a 91-mph sinking fastball for a ball, a 95-mph fastball for a ball and an 80-mph slider for a strike.
Then things got interesting, with Trout fouling off a pair of fastballs and a slider and taking an 89-mph changeup to run the count full. There were four more foul balls, on a changeup and a pair of 98-mph fastballs sandwiched around a 99-mph fastball, before Trout took ball four.
"I saw everything in that one at-bat — sliders, changeups, heaters — it was a battle, for sure," Trout said. "He was challenging me, and I kept fouling balls back. It's always tough facing a guy like him. He throws all of his pitches for strikes, and he can throw them for balls too. He throws his fastball from 92-100 mph. It's a fun challenge."
The respect was mutual.
"I gave him everything I had," Sale said of Trout. "It's a tough straw to pull right there. That's why he is who is and he's done what he's done. He's a tough out for anybody, I don't care who you are. He's going to battle you. That's why he's the best in the game."
Sale was 1-3 with a 7.61 ERA in his previous four starts, unsightly numbers that didn't jibe with the pitcher the Angels knew, the one who entered Monday with a 3-0 record and 1.45 ERA in six career games against the Angels and limited the eight current Angels who had faced him to a .093 average (five for 54).
"That's when you ask, 'When does that stop?'" Angels left fielder Shane Victorino said before the game. "Hopefully it's not against us, but he can shut you out on any single night. He might have the mind-set, 'This is the team I'm going to take it to.' When is that guy going to come back?"
That would be Monday night, when Sale, a wiry 6-foot-6, 180-pound bundle of elbows, knees and funky arm angles, blanked the Angels for six innings before yielding a two-run double to Johnny Giavotella in the seventh.
Sale struck out seven and walked two and allowed only one runner to reach third base in the first six innings, showing that reports of his demise were greatly exaggerated.
"Everything is flying at you, so it's hard to pick up the ball," Trout said of Sale. "You can't really sit on one pitch. If you sit fastball, you'll be out front on that changeup. That's why he's one of the best. He's nasty, for sure."