CHICAGO | Even though he kept the nay-sayers away with a game-winning homer Monday, White Sox catcher Tyler Flowers still had his priorities straight after he helped guide Chris Sale to a 1-0 victory over the Kansas City Royals.
Flowers, eyed suspiciously by many after replacing A.J. Pierzynski, is under the microscope over his hitting. Yet he knows batterymate Sale’s 7 2/3 shutout innings over a tough Royals lineup was the key before a chilled 39,012 Opening Day sellout crowd at U.S. Cellular Field.
“That’s priority one,” Flowers said. “The hit and all that, that’s a bonus. It just happened today that was the one run we needed.
“Getting Chris that quality start, especially to open up the season for him -- his first Opening Day start -- I know he was pretty jacked up at the beginning trying to keep him calm. I was really pleased with how he threw the ball all day.”
Sale knows the pressure the affable Flowers must endure. He was more pleased with Flowers’ 389-foot homer to left-center off Royals ace James Shields in the fifth than the catcher himself.
“It was awesome,” Sale said. “Not only defensively was he there (today), but what better way to win a 1-0 ballgame than my partner-in-crime put one into the seats. It was fun to watch. I was excited for him. It really picked us up and won the game for us.”
The Sale-Flowers show was aided by a second baseman Gordon Beckham’s spectacular leaping catch of a Lonny Cain liner off Sale in the seventh to blunt a budding Royals rally.
Manager Robin Ventura has had to answer Flowers questions ever since he was anointed with the starting job behind the plate. He got backing from all sides of Flowers’ game Monday.
“This is Flowers’ time,” Ventura said of the catcher trying to improve from .213 as a backup in 2012. “Everybody’s pulling for him to do that.”
Ventura also noticed how a more mature Sale would conserve his efforts better than his first year as a starter in 2012. He let him go 104 pitches, of which 72 were strikes.
“Today, he was very efficient,” Ventura said, comparing Sale to last year when the lefty might try to blow away hitters with a mid-90s fastball.
Sale allowed seven singles and one walk while striking out seven.
“I faced this team a few times before,” he said. “It was kind of mixing things up. The more you fill up the zone, the more they put swings on the ball, getting some outs, and staying in there longer.”
Sale needed relief help from Nate Jones, Matt Thorton and closer Addison Reed. Meanwhile, Shields, the big off-season Royals acquisition, prevented Sale from getting more breathing room. Seven of the eight hits off Shields were singles.