Sale’s Ugly Start Sparks Concern Among Red Sox Fans
By Michael Silverman
SEATTLE -- Opening day opened up a can of worms named Chris Sale.
In just three innings, Sale managed to make six weeks of non-stop worrying about the state of the Boston Red Sox bullpen feel more like an afterthought.
In just three innings in which he allowed seven runs -- with three home runs, a triple, a double, a single and two walks in Boston’s first game as defending world champions -- Sale stifled most of the breathless chatter about how the Red Sox look so darn primed to repeat.
In just three shoddy innings Sale, fresh off a contract extension through 2024, stirred mostly buried concerns about that “mild shoulder discomfort” that derailed the second half of his 2018 season.
Maybe that was the most impressive aspect of Sale’s Game 1 start.
He achieved all of that -- in just three innings.
And while the performance by no means necessitated any movement toward anything remotely resembling a so-called panic button, there really was no way to walk away from the 12-4 loss to Seattle with anything other than a slightly kicked in the butt kind of feeling.
A four-game winning streak or even 3-1 stretch before Sale’s next start might help erase the minor sting from this start to both his and the Red Sox’s season.
But we all have to wait for that second game in Oakland to get another look.
And that wait is going to a bit excruciating for all involved, especially Sale.
“That’s the beauty and the curse of this game, you’ve got to wait a little bit to get out there as a starting pitcher, but as a team collectively we show up tomorrow ready to win and just throw this one into the trash can,” Sale said.
Both Sale and manager Alex Cora flatly denied that anything physical was involved in Sale’s performance, so for now that worry can be placed back in mothballs.
What happened in Seattle is going to stay in Seattle, Sale made it sound.
“No, I felt fine, I’ve done this enough I should be able to go out there and get it done with no matter how many starts I have, what kind of stuff I have that day,” Sale said. “I expect a lot out of myself and expect a lot better than that.”
Sale did record three strikeouts in his first inning, which he pitched with a 1-0 lead. And in the second inning, that lead had grown to 2-0 -- and then Sale gave up a one-out homer to Tim Beckham and then a two-run triple to the seventh batter he faced that inning, Domingo Santana. The Mariners had the lead but it was only one run.
Shouldn’t have been a problem.
Until it was.
“My guys put me in a pretty good situation early in the game to succeed to help us win, and I did everything I could to mess that up,” Sale said. “Couldn’t keep the ball in the ballpark and my command was pretty bad.”
Pretty quickly in the third inning, that became apparent, with Edwin Encarnacion leading off with a home run. A walk later, Beckham connected for his second home run, and then Sale had a triple and a sacrifice fly left in him to make his number even more crooked.
He was cooked after 76 pitches.
“It sucks, first one of the year you want to start off on right foot,” Sale said. “We set ourselves up nicely, we were 2-0 going out there for the second inning. I really just deflated us with that, three runs, hey it’s a one-run ballgame, anything can happen, then go back out there and completely stink the place up. It’s not what I needed to do.”
Manager Alex Cora did not try to sugarcoat much.
“I think honestly he was very erratic with fastball location, the slider wasn’t great, I think his changeup was his best pitch,” Cora said. “He tried to go up and in against Beckham in the first and misfired up and away. That kid put a good swing on it and we tried to go up again against him and he got two he hit out of the ballpark. He’ll tell you, he’ll be very sincere. It’s one of those that it wasn’t a good one. We’ll keep working, he’ll be ready for the next one and we’ll go from there.”
Sale said he would assess his start Friday when he got to the ballpark. The assessment will have a tight focus on his lack of command.
“I feel like I should be able to go out there and throw strikes, I mean this is the big leagues, man,” Sale said. “I don’t feel like I need a whole lot of practice, command’s never really been a big issue of mine, so it’s frustrating when it becomes an issue. I should be able to throw the ball over the plate, that’s my job, and I just wasn’t able to.”
And to think -- all it took was just three innings to make everybody add Sale to their list of worries.