NEW YORK -- For three days, Chris Sale pestered his manager, anticipating the opportunity that was to come. Sale, who started the Red Sox's American League Division Series Game 1 win over the Yankees, told manager Alex Cora he wanted to pitch in relief in Game 4. He cajoled. He made himself a nuisance.
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When Sale arrived at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday, he played his final card. Approaching Cora, Sale reiterated that he wanted the ball at some point, then turned and walked away without waiting for a response.
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"I don't know if that was a good thing or a bad thing," Sale said afterward. "But I feel like it worked out."
Throwing a perfect eighth inning in Boston's 4-3, series-clinching victory over the Yankees, Sale built a bridge between Boston's middle relievers and closer Craig Kimbrel, securing three outs in a game the Red Sox won with the potential tying run at second base. Rather than start a decisive Game 5 at Fenway Park, Sale helped ensure the series wouldn't go that far.
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"He did an outstanding job, passed the baton to Craig and we closed the deal," Cora said.
Coy before the game, Cora said he would only use Sale in a "perfect" situation, content to lean on Matt Barnes, Ryan Brasier and his other trusted relievers. Boston's Game 1 starter, Sale threw 93 pitches Friday at Fenway Park, after shoulder inflammation limited him to 17 innings over the final two months of the regular season.
In truth, Cora spent his pregame hours planning for this, consulting Boston's training staff about Sale's availability. Everything checked out. So as Brasier sliced through his three allotted batters in the seventh, Cora huddled with pitching coach Dana LeVangie and bench coach Ron Roenicke to make the final decision. Caught up in the moment, Cora called down the dugout: "Hey, we're all in! He's coming in."
"He's Chris Sale," Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts said. "In a game like this, you've got to bring out your big dog."
Boston's big dog went 11-4 with a 2.04 ERA over the season's first four months, before shoulder trouble shortened his season. Anticipating Sale's importance in October, the Red Sox bubble wrapped him as they cruised to the AL East title, waiting until ALDS Game 1 to unleash their ace in full.
Four days later, Sale jogged out of the bullpen and set to work. Entering a game in the eighth inning or later for the first time since 2012, Sale needed just 13 pitches to dispatch the Yankees in order. Gleyber Torres flew out to the warning track. Pinch-hitter Andrew McCutchen grounded out to third. Aaron Hicks struck out looking on a slider that dove toward the bottom edge of the zone. In the process, Sale reduced the Yankees' Fangraphs win expectancy from 9 percent to 3.5 percent.
"That's pretty much game over," infielder Brock Holt said.
Boston still had to survive a Yankees rally against Kimbrel in the ninth, but by that point, all of Cora's most difficult decisions -- and there were several -- were in the books. The Sox's lone series loss occurred in Game 2, when they mustered merely two runs at Fenway Park. Given a chance to tweak the lineup following that game, Cora made wholesale changes, replacing his catcher and three-quarters of his infield. The new players combined to go 9-for-22 with seven runs and eight RBIs in Game 3, including Holt, who hit for the first cycle in postseason history.
When Holt returned to the bench in Game 4, that move worked, too; his replacement, Ian Kinsler, hit an RBI double during Boston's three-run, third-inning rally. Cora's decision to flip starters Nathan Eovaldi and Rick Porcello also bore fruit when they combined to allow two runs in 12 innings in Games 3 and 4, putting the Sox on the verge of a clinch.
To complete it, the Sox needed a dozen outs from a bullpen that posted a 4.28 ERA after the All-Star break -- 19th in the Majors, worst of any playoff team over that stretch. Cora turned first to Barnes and then to Brasier, each recording three quick outs. Then he called for Sale.
"I had a lot of confidence that he was going to get the job done," Sox outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. said.
Nothing, of course, is automatic. It was just last year that Sale made his postseason debut at age 28, going 0-2 with an 8.38 ERA in two ALDS outings. In the first of them, he allowed seven runs. In the second, he came on in relief and allowed two runs over 4 2/3 innings.
Sale called that experience "as bad as it can possibly get," but also the type of thing that prepared him for Tuesday -- the type of thing he will take with him into ALCS Game 1, which he is scheduled to start Saturday night against the Astros at Fenway Park.
"You learn more from your mistakes sometimes than you do your successes," Sale said. "You try to flip the script and be better from it."
What Sale envisioned was something like this. Thronged by reporters and cameras in the Sox's postgame clubhouse, Sale wore a backwards cap with ski goggles pushed up onto it. He looked over the crowd to a spot near the wall, where one of his teammates was spraying him with champagne. Then Sale excused himself.
"I think," he said, "it's time to celebrate a little more."