Sale to start Game 5: 'This is crunch time'

October 20th, 2021

BOSTON -- is no stranger to pitching in crucial postseason games for the Red Sox.

In 2018, the lefty led his team into October with a Game 1 win over the Yankees in the American League Division Series. In Game 4 of the same series, Sale came out of the bullpen for a scoreless eighth. And his most memorable postseason moment came two rounds later, closing out Game 5 of the World Series with three strikeouts.

Three years later, Sale once again finds himself getting the ball in a pivotal postseason game for the Red Sox. Following Boston’s 9-2 loss to Houston in Game 4 at Fenway Park, manager Alex Cora announced Sale would start Game 5 on Wednesday with the series tied at two apiece.

“We all know what we got ahead of us and the series tied 2-2,” Sale said. “Big game, obviously, tomorrow and going back to Houston [is] guaranteed now. So taking this last one at home right before we get on that plane and head down to Houston will be big.”

In two postseason outings this year, Sale has pitched just 3 2/3 innings and compiled an uncharacteristic 14.73 ERA. Comparatively, the lefty owned a 4.11 ERA in five outings (three starts) during the entirety of the 2018 postseason. Despite the inflated numbers, Sale’s teammates have nothing but confidence in sending the lefty to the mound in a swing game.

“We can't ask for anybody else we would rather have on the mound than Chris tomorrow,” Nathan Eovaldi said, “and he has been working hard in between each start. He is feeling good. His mechanics are feeling better. I think we're going to have a great game tomorrow, and he is going to come out. He lives up to the pressure. I mean, he enjoys it. He likes it. He likes going out there and being that guy for us, and he is going to be ready to go.”

Since making his season debut on Aug. 14, Sale’s most noticeable struggle in his return from Tommy John surgery has come with his changeup. In Game 2 of the ALDS against Tampa Bay, Sale threw the pitch just once and instead relied on his fastball and slider, both of which the Rays successfully jumped on. Though Sale’s next start showed signs of improvement (one run in 2 2/3 innings), the lefty again shied away from his curve, throwing it just four times with no swings and misses.

Sale has been working on mechanical adjustments in between his starts, spending a good chunk of his time getting work in the bullpen. When asked if he’d ever spent this much time in the ‘pen, Sale replied, “No chance.”

“I've never been away from the game like I was before,” Sale said. “This is crunch time. This isn't, ‘Let's work back from Tommy John and try to find some stuff.’ We need it now. Look where we're at. I got to put [in] as much work as I can, and I got to do my job.”

As far as what the lefty has been working on?

“Just my delivery. You know, getting comfortable with it, being able to repeat it a lot,” Sale said. “I think that's where a lot of my inconsistencies have come, not being able to repeat that. A lot of dry throws, a lot of heavy bullpen sessions, stuff like that. Just the more repetition I can get, the better off I'm going to be.”

Another new variable for Sale in this outing? Game 5 will be his first postseason outing at Fenway Park this year -- and his first since a four-inning start in Game 1 of the 2018 World Series. Though Fenway has long had a reputation for its October atmosphere, this year in particular has rivaled postseasons past in terms of crowd noise and energy.

“This crowd is everything to us,” Sale said. “Our fans are -- they mean a lot to us, and they know we love them, and we know they love us. This entire postseason they've been bringing it. I know they're going to do everything for us tomorrow.”