HOUSTON -- There have been 91 wins, 1,324 1/3 innings, 1,552 strikeouts and six All-Star appearances that Chris Sale put on his resume in dominant fashion over the past eight seasons.• ALDS Game 1: Today, 4 p.m. ET on MLB NetworkBut for the Red Sox's ace, nothing will match the
HOUSTON -- There have been 91 wins, 1,324 1/3 innings, 1,552 strikeouts and six All-Star appearances that Chris Sale put on his resume in dominant fashion over the past eight seasons.
• ALDS Game 1: Today, 4 p.m. ET on MLB Network
But for the Red Sox's ace, nothing will match the thrill of today, when he takes the mound for Game 1 of the American League Division Series presented by Doosan against the Astros in the first postseason start of his career.
:: ALDS schedule and coverage ::
"A lot of hard work goes into this, ups and downs of the season, battling the travel and all this other stuff," said Sale. "So to be sitting here right now is pretty fulfilling."
The challenge will be stiff, as Sale goes against a potent Houston offense that won 101 games and finished the season red hot. And the opposing pitcher will be Justin Verlander, the power righty who Sale had many battles against during their years together in the AL Central. These are the challenges the lanky left-hander longed to be a part of for all those years he watched the postseason on television.
"They're real good," Sale said of the Astros. "We got to look at them just last week. So we know what we're getting ourselves into and we know what we need to do. So it's just about going out there and getting it done."
The way the Red Sox are built, they will have to lean heavily on Sale to make a prolonged run this October. And if that means pitching on three days' rest as early as Game 4 of this series, Sale says to bring it on.
"Three days' rest, I'm in," said Sale. "This is what I live for. I'm throwing until my arm falls off."
Verlander will have a similar mentality for the Astros in what could be an epic duel.
"We faced off a lot of times," Verlander said. "You know what type of matchup it's going to be. It's going to be a grind. It's kind of like the first person to blink, you know. As a starting pitcher, you love those battles, but in the regular season kind of see who you're going up against -- it's kind of like, all right, let's strap it on and go, because you know it's going to be that type of battle.
"He's a fierce competitor and I've always enjoyed watching him pitch. But this time I'm not rooting for him so much. But it should be a fun game, this is what you dream of as a kid coming up -- you want to face the best and he's one of the best in the game right now. So it will be a lot of fun."
The Red Sox have been waiting for this since they acquired Sale from the White Sox in a blockbuster trade 10 months ago. Sale has been waiting for it a lot longer than that.
"I'm 28 years old, so I've been waiting for this about 23 years," said Sale. "It's what I'm here for. To have this opportunity right here, it's the best."
In 32 starts this season, Sale was 17-8 with a 2.90 ERA and 308 strikeouts. Across the board, his numbers are dazzling. Only Indians ace Corey Kluber can compare in the AL this season.
And now, everyone will see if Sale can reach even another gear in the postseason. One thing is for sure: The Red Sox look forward to watching him try.
"He's been unbelievable since Day One, not only just obviously the stuff he has on the mound, but his presence in the clubhouse," said Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia. "The way he attacks every day, he's always trying to get better. He's a pretty special guy to play with, and we're pretty excited to have him out there on the mound."
Though even some of the best pitchers in recent years have struggled in October -- including Clayton Kershaw and David Price -- the Red Sox think that Sale is built for this time of year.
"I think this somewhat compares to the way he came into Boston following the trade," said Red Sox manager John Farrell. "He has handled it without distraction, he's handled it with, I think, a consistency to his routine and being true to himself, who he is as a performer, as a pitcher.
In two career starts at Minute Maid Park, Sale is 1-1 with a 2.40 ERA. He has always pitched well against Houston, going 5-1 with a 1.31 ERA in six starts. But none of that will mean anything on Thursday. It will all come down to how well Sale can execute in the biggest test to date of his career.
"For me, just it's going to be hard not to, but try not to put too much emphasis on it," said Sale. "Just try to treat this just like another game. You get a little amped up sometimes and that can kind of go crazy. So I'm going to just try to go out there and pitch my game and act like this is just another one along the way."
Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.