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Sale still fueled by rough MLB debut against O's

June 15, 2019

BALTIMORE -- Chris Sale didn’t always like pitching at Camden Yards. In fact, he hated it, and still does … kind of. The year was 2010, and Sale was just called up just months after he was drafted 13th overall by the White Sox. After not appearing during a series

BALTIMORE -- Chris Sale didn’t always like pitching at Camden Yards. In fact, he hated it, and still does … kind of.

The year was 2010, and Sale was just called up just months after he was drafted 13th overall by the White Sox. After not appearing during a series against Detroit, he entered a 1-1 tilt in Baltimore in the eighth inning for his first taste of Major League action.

Box score

What unfolded still haunts him: a walk to Brian Roberts and a single to Nick Markakis before recording one out and getting yanked. The White Sox ultimately lost that game, 2-1, in extras.

“I think about it every time I come here,” Sale said. “It’s something I'll never forget.

“I always told myself after that I would clean it up here.”

Sale has emphatically done just that since his first Camden Yards experience nine years ago. After Saturday’s 7-2 win over the Orioles -- Boston’s fourth consecutive victory -- the lefty owns a 7-1 record with a 1.97 ERA and 95 strikeouts across 64 1/3 innings in Baltimore.

The last time Sale was here, in May? Fourteen strikeouts in eight innings. The time before that, in 2018? Twelve strikeouts in five.

“Guess I get a little bit more lucky here than other places, too,” he said.

His two runs in six innings Saturday were solid but not what he’s become accustomed to based on his recent starts. Sale entered Saturday with 17 consecutive scoreless innings, which he extended to 22 before facing trouble the third time through the Orioles lineup.

A pair scored on his watch in the sixth inning before Sale rebounded to punch out Keon Broxton for his 10th strikeout on the afternoon to end the inning, stranding two Orioles and securing double-digit strikeouts in four consecutive games in the process.

“Good lord, I’m glad he’s not on the other team,” said first baseman Michael Chavis. “Just how he goes about his business and how intense he is, I’m playing first base and I’m intimidated.”

What’s been most impressive in the eyes of Boston manager Alex Cora is how Sale has gone about this season. From a 6.30 ERA at the beginning of May to a 3.49 ERA after Saturday’s outing, his resurgence is based on an emphasis on pitch selection, movement and placement more than velocity. Cora hinted Saturday that the last component -- uncontrolled velocity -- is what contributed to him going on the injured list last season.

Sale topped out at 95.6 mph Saturday; not a concern -- in fact a positive -- for those in the away dugout.

“We talked about it in the offseason,” Cora said. “Last year, after that Texas start it was all out. I’m not saying it was the reason he went on the [IL], but we have to be smart. We are here for the long run and he can get people out like that, induce people to weak contact using changeups and all that and go deeper into games. He’s in a good place.”

Sale was backed up Saturday by teammates who also enjoy playing against the black and orange.

After the Red Sox plated three in the sixth before the Orioles’ mini rally in the bottom of the frame, one swing of the bat by J.D. Martinez induced a collective sigh in the dugout. His solo shot, his third homer of the series, gave Boston some breathing room. They extended their lead by three more runs in the ninth.

Martinez entered Saturday slashing .373/.497/.865 with 17 homers and 39 RBIs in 36 games against the Orioles since the start of 2016.

“It all comes down to dominating the strike zone, he hasn’t chased too many pitches,” Cora said of Martinez’s recent performance. “He’s staying within the zone, staying within himself and driving the ball to right-center, which is important for him.”

Chavis, for his part, had a productive 2-for-5 day at the plate after a stretch of offensive output in which he said he has been feeling “horrible lately. Embarrassing, if I’m being honest.”

But an impressive snag and tag of first base to open the bottom of the ninth took the wind out of any sort of Baltimore comeback.

“It all happened so fast, it’s just one of those reactionary plays,” Chavis said. “I’m just trying to get there as quick as possible, and diving to the bag was the best option.”

Perhaps Sale’s intensity in Baltimore is getting to him.