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Is Sale back? Immaculate inning a good sign

May 9, 2019

BALTIMORE -- For nearly six innings on Wednesday night at Camden Yards, Chris Sale flirted with a no-hitter and there was nothing fluky about it. Not long after that ended, he was immaculate with a nine-pitch, three-strikeout seventh inning. In case you missed it, Sale is back in a big

BALTIMORE -- For nearly six innings on Wednesday night at Camden Yards, Chris Sale flirted with a no-hitter and there was nothing fluky about it. Not long after that ended, he was immaculate with a nine-pitch, three-strikeout seventh inning.

In case you missed it, Sale is back in a big way after that well-chronicled slump he had to open the season.

Sale was vintage and powerful in his best start of the season -- and one of the most dominant of his career.

Box score

Over eight innings, the lefty allowed three hits and a run while walking none and striking out 14 (one short of a career high). Of his 108 pitches, 80 were for strikes.

Though Sale had to settle for a no decision, the Red Sox wound up winning, 2-1 in 12 innings thanks to a jaw-dropping, wall-scraping catch by Jackie Bradley Jr. in the bottom of the 11th and a go-ahead homer by Andrew Benintendi shortly thereafter.

While Bradley’s grab deservedly got most of the attention, Sale’s resurgence is huge for the Red Sox, who have at last fought their way back to .500.

“Amazing,” said Red Sox manager Alex Cora. “For everybody that was worried about velocity and all that, well, he went eight and he had a good slider. He located his fastball. In this business, you’ve got to be patient. We’ve been patient.”

In Sale’s first four starts of the season, he had an 8.50 ERA. In the last four, he’s at 1.73. Sale has lowered his ERA for the season a full four runs – down to 4.50 -- in those four starts,

“Just getting in sync,” said Sale. “My delivery, just some other things, I would say the biggest thing is just the fastball command. I’m feeling good within the delivery and good tempo. Getting in a rhythm and trying to find a groove and keep it going. That’s kind of the name of the game. Just try to keep riding that.”

In his first seven starts of the season, Sale generated 21 swings and misses on his fastball. In this start alone, he induced 16 swings and misses on the heater, falling just one short of a career high.

The immaculate seventh was the first of Sale’s career. Throwing four sliders and five fastballs (topping out at 95.5 mph), Sale fanned Hanser Alberto, Dwight Smith Jr. and Stevie Wilkerson. It's the first immaculate inning for the Red Sox since Rick Porcello did it on Aug. 9, 2017.

“That was cool. I obviously saw Rick and Craig [Kimbrel] do it a couple of years ago,” Sale said. “Had one other chance when I was in Chicago and I didn’t. So I knew, once I got two outs, and I was like, keep throwing strikes. Either give up the hit or a foul ball or something. Don’t [throw a ball]. That’s cool. That’s something that’s interesting but I appreciate it.”

As for the no-hit bid, that will have to come some other time.

That bid was spoiled on a clean single up the middle by Joey Rickard with two outs in the sixth.

Though pitchers can sometimes act oblivious to a no-hitter that stretches to the mid innings, Sale was typically candid when asked if he was thinking about it as the game evolved.

“It’s hard not to. But at the same time, you’ve got a one-run game so you can’t really get caught up in that kind of stuff,” Sale said. “[Catcher] Sandy [Leon] was right on point from the get-go.”