Vintage Sale (10 K's) leads Sox to 7th straight W

Lefty touches 99 mph, whiffs Harper en route to second consecutive victorious start

May 6th, 2023

PHILADELPHIA -- What a week it has been for the Red Sox.

Not only did they run their season-high winning streak to seven with a 5-3 conquest over the Phillies on Friday night at Citizens Bank Park, but it appears -- the good Chris Sale -- is back.

As amped as Philadelphia fans were to see Bryce Harper play at home for the first time since last year’s World Series, Sale appeared just as fired up for the challenge.

Facing Harper in the bottom of the first, Sale threw four pitches. The first two were 98.5 mph heaters that Harper looked at for strikes. Then a 98.6 mph fastball that Harper fouled off. And on the 0-2 pitch, Sale blew a 97.5 mph four-seamer by Harper to end the at-bat and the inning.

“This obviously isn’t an easy place to come into,” Sale said. “They are very passionate about sports. With him, obviously he's Bryce Harper. He’s kind of a one of one [type of player] if you ask anybody. You know with the production and everything, him coming back [earlier this week], first game back at home.

“You kind of understand it, but I still have a job to do, too. And that's to try not to get them more riled up.”

That was the signature sequence of the night in which Sale overpowered the Phillies, save for a three-run fourth inning. The lefty went six innings, scattering seven hits while allowing three runs, walking one and striking out 10.

For the first time this season, Sale (3-2) has turned in two strong outings in a row, both wins.

While Sale’s 6.37 ERA shows how out of sorts he was in some of his earlier outings, he looks like a pitcher who is coming into form after making a total of 11 starts over the previous three seasons.

On a night Sale topped out at 99 mph with his fastball while generating 17 whiffs, he took another step to getting back to the form that made him a seven-time All-Star.

Did Sale expect his top velocity to come back this early in the season?

“My expectations are pretty high of myself, so I've been kind of waiting for it, honestly,” Sale said. “But again, you know, these are things that I want to continue to do. I want to continue to build and to get deeper into games.”

As for that rocky fourth inning, it started with Sale sort of stumbling over himself as he tried to field a roller by Harper that went as a single. The Phillies followed with an RBI double by Nick Castellanos, an RBI triple by J.T. Realmuto and an RBI single by Alec Bohm, and the game was suddenly tied at 3.

Sale started to simmer, and Boston’s infield, led by Rafael Devers, made one of the most strategically sound mound huddles of the season.

“The train started to get off the tracks a little bit. Emotions got high,” Sale said. “The pot started to kind of spill over a little bit and everyone in that infield [settled me down]. I even thanked them after the game because without them, I don’t even know what that would have looked like.”

For Sale, perhaps one unforeseen part of his comeback is that he’s relearning how to channel his emotions on the mound.

“I like to compete. I love it. It's what I really am passionate about,” Sale said. “And it's hard sometimes, you know, with everything that's gone on, you sometimes have a tough time unhitching the trailer with some of these emotions and some of the things that have happened.

“For them to see that and say, ‘Hey, whoa, we need to get out there, we need to get our guy calmed down, we need to get him back on track and focused,’ that’s huge. Again, without them, I don't know what that ending would look like. It probably could have been a lot worse.”

After that hiccup, Sale retired the next three batters to escape the fourth and then fired two more scoreless innings, ending his night by punching out Edmundo Sosa on a vintage slider in the dirt.

“He’s fresh,” manager Alex Cora said. “He’s feeling good. Sometimes you wonder, is it too soon for him to throw 97, 98? But he hasn’t competed and he wants to compete, and he wants to dominate. Today was a great day for him.”