CHICAGO - Joe Girardi's pregame scouting report on Chris Sale proved to be dead-on. "When he makes a mistake, you better hit it," he said, "because he's not going to make a lot of them."
On Thursday night, it was more like none.
In his first start since being activated from the disabled list, the lefthander dominated the Yankees, who fell to the White Sox, 3-2, at U.S. Cellular Field.
"The best I've even seen him," said Mark Teixeira, who had a two-out, two-run single against Ronald Belisario in the ninth that left the Yankees a run short.
Sale, who was 3-0 with a 2.30 ERA before landing on the disabled list a month ago with a flexor strain in his left arm, pitched a perfect 52/3 innings before Zoilo Almonte's line-drive single. Sale allowed only that hit, walked none and struck out 10 in six innings in lifting his record to 4-0 and lowering his ERA to 1.89.
After Teixeira's hit, Alfonso Soriano took a called third strike on a 3-and-2 pitch to end it. The Yankees were irritated with plate umpire Tim Woodring much of the night, never more so than on the last pitch to Soriano, borderline high and inside and, for good measure, dropped by catcher Tyler Flowers.
"It was up and in," Soriano said. "I know the umpires, they have a tough job, it's not easy to be an umpire, but that ball is up and in. I never say anything to the umpires . . . but that was a bad call. There's nothing you can do."
Said Girardi: "It looked like it was up from our viewpoint, but I didn't see a replay."
The Yankees did catch one break: Because it was his first start since coming off the disabled list, Sale was on a pitch count and therefore was done after six innings and 86 pitches.
The Yankees, with a lineup stocked with righthanded hitters and switch hitters to combat Sale, did nothing against righties Zach Putnam and Daniel Webb, who pitched perfect seventh and eighth innings, before scoring against Belisario.
"You pick it up late," Teixeira said of the 6-6 Sale. "He's really tall and throws sidearm. You put it all together and deception is a big part of his game."
It was the third straight game in which the Yankees were stymied by an opposing starter -- the Cubs' Jason Hammel and Jeff Samardzija on Tuesday and Wednesday and Sale Thursday night. Against that trio, they had one run and nine hits in 182/3 innings, striking out 19 times.
"We've ran against three pretty good starting pitchers," Girardi said. "But I know we're capable of hitting better than this."
David Phelps (1-1, 3.18) pitched well in his fourth start since being inserted into the rotation, allowing two runs, five hits and one walk with eight strikeouts in seven innings, but he was no match for Sale, making his first start since April 17.
Sale struck out the side in the first on 18 pitches, getting Derek Jeter looking at a 96-mph fastball and Teixeira swinging at an 86-mph changeup to end the inning. After a 1-2-3 second in which the Yankees put three balls in play, Sale struck out the side again in the third.
The Yankees did manage to drive up Sale's pitch count to 49 after three innings, giving them hope, at the very least, that their torture at his hands wouldn't last the entire evening.
Phelps retired the first two White Sox hitters in the second but allowed back-to-back doubles by Paul Konerko and Alejandro De Aza and an RBI single by Adam Eaton. Adam Dunn's two-out single off Alfredo Aceves in the eighth drove in what proved to be the winning run.
"It's annoying," Phelps said. "I have to do a better job of getting guys out with two outs. That's unacceptable. I'm happy with the way I threw the ball the rest of the game. It's just a tough loss to take."