BOSTON -– The glow of watching the Red Sox collect their championship rings didn't last long for the Fenway faithful, as Chris Sale once again lacked dominant stuff in Tuesday's 7-5 loss to the Blue Jays in the home opener.
Though Sale's fastball velocity (91.7 mph) improved from his last outing -- when he finished at a career-worst average of 89.3 mph -- the overall results worsened.
So, too, did Sale's mood. The ultimate competitor, Sale is at a loss for why he isn't pitching up to his lofty standards, or even anywhere close to them.
"I'm trying to find something," said Sale. "I'm working. That only goes so far. This isn't the hard-work league. This is the do-good league. Got to start going out there and performing."
Boston’s ace lasted just four innings, giving up seven hits and five runs while walking none and striking out three. He threw 76 pitches and generated 10 swings and misses as the defending World Series champions fell to 3-9.
"It's very easy to just throw [this one] on top of the pile and say we're not playing good," said Sale. "This wasn't us not playing good. This was me sucking today. That's frustrating. Today was the day we were going to turn it around. We were back home, ceremony, playing in front of our home fans for the first time. Everyone did what they had to do except for me, and that's a frustrating spot to be in."
There were some bright spots for Sale, even if they were hard to see. All seven hits he allowed were singles. Of the 15 balls put in play against Sale, only two were at an exit velocity of 95 mph or more. In addition, four of the seven hits Sale gave up had an expected batting average of .250 or lower.
However, the cold truth is this: Sale (0-3, 9.00 ERA) hasn't looked himself in any of his three starts this season. Of the 88 fastballs Sale has thrown in 2019, there have been just two swings and misses, both of which were on Tuesday.
"You guys are watching," said Sale. "I'm struggling. I don't know if I've ever pitched like this in my life. Tough spot to be in, but I've got guys in here fighting and I've got to keep fighting."
Red Sox manager Alex Cora revealed for the first time in the hours leading up to Tuesday's game that Sale was impacted by a stomach bug in the days that led up to the start vs. the A's last week. Cora said Sale made only 50 throws on the side in between his first and second starts of the season.
But Sale was healthy for the home opener, and he looked it when he breezed through the first two innings as his team staked him to a 2-0 lead with one run in each of the first two frames. When he struck out Lourdes Gurriel Jr. to end the second, he did so with his fastest pitch of the season at 94.7 mph.
In those first two innings, Sale needed just 25 pitches to get six outs. Sale needed 51 pitches to get his next six outs.
"Yeah, he wasn't able to put hitters away," Cora said. "Velocity was what, 91-92 [mph]? Showed some flashes of 94-95 [mph] at the end. As far as the offspeed, slider, really inconsistent. He made some good ones down and in toward righties and then he left it in the zone. The changeup wasn't great."
Sale's unraveling began in the third, when the Jays produced a game-tying two-run rally on three singles and a sacrifice fly.
It all fell apart in the fourth when the Jays scored three more, including a straight steal of home by Gurriel. Sale, who obviously lost track of the runner at third, was so thrown by Gurriel's mad dash that he threw the ball to the backstop in his hurried attempt to get the pitch to catcher Christian Vázquez. Sale departed with Boston in a 5-2 deficit.
"I mean, he's always going to be good," said Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo. "Right now, he's not throwing 95 [mph]. He's throwing 90, 91 [mph]. So that should be a little bit easier to hit than 95 [mph]."
Maybe the next start will be the one Sale turns it around.
"If I knew what it was, I'd fix it," Sale said. "That's kind of where I'm at, is spinning my tires. Looking at this, looking at that. See if I'm tipping pitches, seeing if my mechanics, if it's this, if it's angles, still searching. But I'll find it. I know who I am, I know what I can do."
The fact that Sale's team nearly staged a comeback -- Toronto led, 6-5, in the bottom of the eighth -- made Sale feel better and worse at the same time.
"We score five runs and six guys coming out of our bullpen, they only gave up two runs. We've got to win that game," said Sale.
Has Sale ever felt this lost?
"Never in my life. That's not going to stop me. I don't have an inch of back down in me," Sale said. "Like I said, I'm just not getting it done. That's the bottom line in this game and that's the bottom line in sports. I've never seen an ugly win and I've never seen a good loss. At the end of the day, just have to find a way to win, no matter what."
The Red Sox, to a man, think Sale will find his groove soon.
"He's going to be fine," said Dustin Pedroia, who played in his first Major League game since May 29, 2018. "I mean, it's Chris Sale. Everybody hits tough patches throughout the year. Everyone does. He's going to be our horse. He is who he is. What does he have, three starts? He's going to be fine."
Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.