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Sale's dominance worthy of ASG starting nod

MLB.com @IanMBrowne

ST. PETERSBURG -- The misfire that Red Sox ace Chris Sale made to Wilson Ramos for a two-run homer on Thursday night was fresh in the left-hander's mind and still grating at him when he was asked to evaluate his monster first half-season with his new team.

"I don't think that's for me to talk about," said Sale after a 4-1 loss to the Rays. "I'm not a big fan of talking about myself. That's for other people to talk about."

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ST. PETERSBURG -- The misfire that Red Sox ace Chris Sale made to Wilson Ramos for a two-run homer on Thursday night was fresh in the left-hander's mind and still grating at him when he was asked to evaluate his monster first half-season with his new team.

"I don't think that's for me to talk about," said Sale after a 4-1 loss to the Rays. "I'm not a big fan of talking about myself. That's for other people to talk about."

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And there is plenty to talk about -- the type of statistical fodder that should lead to Sale starting his second straight All-Star Game for the American League on Tuesday night in Miami.

"I think he's most deserving," said pitching coach Carl Willis. "Our main objective is to have him continue the second half for us like he did in the first half. But he certainly deserves that opportunity."

After 18 starts, Sale is 11-4 with a 2.75 ERA and an AL-leading 0.90 WHIP. Though the achievement came in defeat, Thursday marked the 15th time this season Sale has gone seven innings or more. He is holding opponents to a .200 batting average, another league high. He leads the Majors in innings, at 127 2/3.

Then there are the strikeouts. Sale reeled off another 12 against the Rays to give him a whopping 178 for the season. Tampa Bay's Chris Archer is second in the AL, a distant 39 strikeouts behind.

For perspective, consider that the last Major League pitcher to have more strikeouts at the All-Star break was Curt Schilling, who had 186 in 2002 for the D-backs. Roger Clemens (186 in 1988) and Pedro Martinez (184 in '99) are the only pitchers in Red Sox history with more punchouts at the break.

This was one powerful first half delivered by the pitcher who was acquired amid so much fanfare from the White Sox back in December.

"Stellar," said manager John Farrell. "You look at the way he's pitched deep into ballgames. The competitiveness. The numbers speak for themselves. I mean, he's on a historic run here the way he's gone through this first half. He's led our pitching staff. He's been a leader on our team. So everything we could have hoped for when we acquired him, he has certainly lived up to that."

Part of what the Red Sox have come to love about Sale is his fierce competitiveness and his accountability.

"It's that sixth inning, that home run really sucked the energy out of us," said Sale of the moonshot Ramos hit. "It's easier to fight down one than down three. I just put my guys in a bad spot."

But he hasn't done that very often. Sale's only clunker of the first half came on May 30, when he was perhaps too amped up in his return to Chicago, giving up 10 hits and six runs over five innings at U.S. Cellular Field.

His dominance has been strikingly consistent. He has struck out 10 or more in 12 starts, and he has given up more than three earned runs just three times.

"It was a pleasure to watch," said Willis. "He's gone out and just really controlled baseball games throughout the first half."

With the Red Sox in first place in the AL East, one could start to imagine what it would be like to see Sale pitching in the postseason for the first time in his career.

"He's an unbelievable competitor," Willis said. "He wants the ball. He wants to stay out there. He takes a lot of pride in what he does. That goes a long way with the stuff he brings."

It's made life easy for catcher Sandy Leon, who has caught all of Sale's starts this season.

"I think it was amazing the way he was just executing pitches, just fighting, just competing, just giving 100 percent every time he's on the mound," said Leon. "He did a really good job in the first half of the season."

The most fitting way for Sale to cap that first half would be to throw the first pitch for the AL on Tuesday.

Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.

Boston Red Sox, Chris Sale