This is the game -- Game 1 of the World Series -- that Chris Sale was brought to the Red Sox to pitch. This is why Dave Dombrowski, president of baseball operations for Boston, traded away as much young talent as he did to get Sale from Chicago. Sale has
This is the game -- Game 1 of the World Series -- that Chris Sale was brought to the Red Sox to pitch. This is why Dave Dombrowski, president of baseball operations for Boston, traded away as much young talent as he did to get Sale from Chicago. Sale has now pitched the opening game in four straight postseason series for the Red Sox, going back to last season. When he's healthy, he has been one of the true aces in baseball. Now Sale is asked to be as much of an ace as ever on Tuesday night against the Dodgers.
"He's been our guy since Day One," Red Sox manager Alex Cora said on Sunday.
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Cora and the Red Sox have limited Sale's innings since he pitched just six innings in the opening game of this season, against the Rays in St. Petersburg. Sale is a Lakeland, Fla., kid. His uncle had taken him to see the Rays play on the day Tropicana Field opened in 1998, when Sale was nine years old and the two of them sat down the right-field line. Now he had gotten the ball on Opening Day in 2018 at The Trop, and allowed the Rays just one hit that day, leaving with a lead that the Boston relievers gave away. The Red Sox lost, but won 17 of the next 18 games, and were off.
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Boston did monitor Sale's innings after that, even during the stretch when he was at his very best, striking out the world and looking as much a dominant starter as Jacob deGrom was in the National League for the Mets. The reason was simple: Sale was clearly tired by the end of the 2017 season. Gassed. The Astros lit him up in Game 1 of the American League Division Series, and even though Sale came out of the bullpen in Game 4 and pitched brilliantly before being left in that game too long, it was clear that he was not the same pitcher he had been over the summer.
But even with limiting his pitch count in 2018, Sale still ended up on the disabled list after his left shoulder started barking at him. He pitched hardly at all in September. He has made three postseason appearances so far:
Sale started Game 1 of Boston's ALDS against the Yankees, pitching 5 1/3 innings, striking out eight, and allowing up five hits and two earned runs as the Red Sox hung on to beat the Yankees, 5-4.
Sale came out of the bullpen for the bottom of the eighth on the night when the Red Sox closed out the Yankees in Game 4, and pitched an absolutely filthy 1-2-3 inning. He looked to be at his very best. Finally, he started Game 1 against the Astros in the ALCS, pitching four innings of one-hit ball, giving up a couple more runs and striking out five.
Sale's 2018 postseason totals going into Game 1 of the World Series are 10 1/3 innings, with 13 strikeouts against six walks and six hits. He has allowed four runs.
The Red Sox wanted Sale to have a lot left for October. They will get a glimpse on Tuesday night. Dombrowski didn't trade away prospects like Michael Kopech and Yoan Moncada -- and two other talented young players -- just to have Sale pitch the Red Sox back into the Series for the first time since 2013. He made this trade so that Boston could win its fourth World Series in the past 15 years.
So far Sale, who was hospitalized with a stomach ailment after the first two games of the ALCS against the Astros, has been everything Dombrowski and Red Sox ownership could have hoped for, even with the shoulder problems this season. His regular-season record since the trade is 29-12. He has made 59 starts, pitched 372 1/3 innings and has struck out -- wait for it -- 545 batters over that period. He has been one of the great Red Sox left-handers of all time.
When healthy, Sale has absolutely been in the conversation with other true aces in the sport, like deGrom, like Justin Verlander, like Max Scherzer, though he doesn't look like them, with that three-quarters arm angle, a frame as skinny as a swizzle stick and a fastball that doesn't get up to 100 mph. There have been games Sale has pitched where he has looked as dazzling and dominant for Boston as Pedro Martinez once was.
The Red Sox gave up a lot to get him, but they have gotten a lot back. Now Sale pitches the game the Red Sox really acquired him for. His manager says he's been their guy since Day 1. Well, Chris Sale is about to start Game 1 of the World Series. Sometimes in sports, you end up exactly where you're supposed to be -- a long way and a long time from Section 144 at Tropicana Field.
Mike Lupica is a columnist for MLB.com.