TORONTO -- Halfway through his first season with the Red Sox, Chris Sale has been the most dominant pitcher in the American League and appears likely to start the All-Star Game for the second straight season.Along the way, he is putting together one of the best pre All-Star break stretches
TORONTO -- Halfway through his first season with the Red Sox, Chris Sale has been the most dominant pitcher in the American League and appears likely to start the All-Star Game for the second straight season.
Along the way, he is putting together one of the best pre All-Star break stretches of any pitcher in Red Sox history, placing himself in the company of franchise legends like Roger Clemens and Pedro Martinez.
Sale silenced the Toronto Blue Jays in a 7-1 victory by the Red Sox on Canada Day. The lanky lefty held Toronto to four hits over seven shutout innings while walking one and striking out 11.
It's the type of performance that would be a season-best type of day for many pitchers. For Sale, it was just another day of brilliance as he improved to 11-3, lowered his ERA to 2.61 and increased his MLB-leading strikeout total to 166.
The Red Sox, who are on pace for a 92-win season after playing game No. 81 on Saturday, are starting to come together.
But their ace has been a constant force all season.
Boston is a tough market to adjust to? Sale has disputed that notion by mowing down nearly every opponent in his path.
"I just try to block all that crap out, honestly. I'll let you guys talk about it," said Sale. "I've got a job to do. You're aware of it but just try not to focus on anything like that. I have a job to do, same as it always has been since I was a kid. Strike 1, strike 2, that stuff takes care of itself. I just try to stay on it and be as good as I can on and off the field."
On the field, Sale has been completely electric. He has struck out 10 or more in 11 of his 17 starts.
Martinez in 1999 is the only other pitcher in Red Sox history to have that many double-digit K games before the break. Sale has one more start against the Rays on Thursday to set a new team record in that department. His strikeout total before the break trails only Clemens (186 in 1988) and Martinez (184 in '99).
How has Sale carved up opponents so routinely?
"He's the ultimate professional," said Red Sox assistant pitching coach Brian Bannister. "He believes in himself. He obviously has elite physical tools. But he really has a lot of nuance to how he pitches, too. It's not always the same speed, it's not always the same location. It's funky, it's a lot of uncomfortable at-bats.
You don't have to tell the Blue Jays.
"When a guy can throw anything at any time, it's tough to lock in on anything. He reads guys and everybody has a different approach," said Blue Jays manager John Gibbons. "You just have to hope he makes a mistake and if he does, you can't miss it. Easier said than done. But he attacks, he's very aggressive. If you give him a lead, like they did today, normally guys like that don't cough it up."
The Red Sox went up 4-0 after two innings in this one. With Sale on the mound, it was pretty much game, set, match.
"It's huge," said Sale. "I haven't even thrown a competitive pitch, and I have a two-run lead. Not only that, but a long game last night, late night, early morning, to jump out like that and tack two more on in the second inning, that's huge."
In his role with the Red Sox, Bannister dissects pitching video for hours on end in hopes of finding checkpoints that will be valuable. When he looks at Sale's video, a lot of what he does is just marvel at what he sees.
"He's 6-foot-6, pitches from a funky arm slot, he steps across his body. He works fast," said Bannister. "There's a lot of change of speeds, change of shape, change of movement. That's what you like to see in a pitcher is affecting all those elements -- the timing and vision that a hitter deals with."
With half a season still to go, the Red Sox thoroughly look forward to watching foes try to deal with Sale's filthy arsenal the rest of the way.
Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.