Sale outdueled by A's in bizarre start
Lefty allows only 1 run despite recording lowest velocity of career
OAKLAND -- Of the 209 starts Chris Sale has made in his career, Tuesday’s had to be the most confounding.
Then again, that fits right in with the overall theme of his team. The first six games of the season for the defending World Series champion Red Sox (1-5) have also been confounding.
In a 1-0 loss to the Athletics on Tuesday, Sale represented a bright spot. This, even as he pitched with the lowest average fastball velocity (89.3 mph) of his career and had just one strikeout in a start longer than four innings for the first time.
Over six innings, the ace lefty did his Jamie Moyer best, holding the A’s to but three hits and one run (a homer in the first inning by Matt Chapman).
“Yeah, the name of the game isn’t velocity,” said Sale. “It’s giving your team a chance to win. No matter what you’re featuring that day, you’ve got to get as deep into the game as you can and leave your team a chance to win when you’re out of there.”
It was the first quality start by the Red Sox in the season’s first six games. And it was a big improvement from Sale’s Opening Day start, when the Mariners crushed him for seven runs and three homers in just three innings.
Sale achieved his mission of giving his team a chance to win, but winning has been unfathomably hard for a squad that had a franchise-record 108 victories a year ago.
The last reigning champion to start a season 1-5? The 1998 Marlins, who were in rebuilding mode. The Sox are tied with the Angels for the worst record in the Majors, a far cry from last year, when manager Alex Cora’s team started 17-2.
Amazing play short-circuits comeback
A comeback certainly felt possible with one out in the top of the ninth when Xander Bogaerts crushed one to deep right-center against Oakland closer Blake Treinen. For an instant, it seemed the baseball would sneak over the fence for a game-tying home run. Instead, it caromed high off the wall. As stud center fielder Ramón Laureano made a leap in pursuit, the ball bounced well beyond him.
Bogaerts motored around the bases, and when he got to second, a split-second decision needed to be made. Play it safe and stop at second or bust it to third? After the slightest moment of hesitation, Bogaerts chose the more aggressive option. Laureano came up throwing, and his missile to third nailed a baffled Bogaerts. Remember, Bogaerts was thrown out at the plate by Laureano on a similarly ridiculous throw on Monday.
“Again, man,” sighed Bogaerts. “I’m like, there’s no way he’ll do that again. I didn’t even see the replay, but I knew right away once I dove into third, I felt Chapman hit me before I got to the bag, so I already knew I was out. How can he do that two nights in a row? The next time, I won’t run.”
Cora had no problem with his decision.
“I mean, it took a five-star play to get him out at third. Just like yesterday,” Cora said. “The kid is a game-changer. The ball was what, two feet from going out? The guy jumps, goes to the fence, gets to the ball and throws all the way there. You get to third with less than two outs, fly ball, you score. That’s the way the game goes. Right now, nothing is going our way.”
It was the first time the Red Sox have been shut out in the first two games of a series since July 17-18 at the Angels.
More on Sale
Despite the frustration of the loss, and the amazing play by Laureano, Sale remained a focal point. The last time Sale’s average fastball velocity was anything close to what it was against Oakland was July 27, 2012, when he averaged 89.8. But Sale won that game against the Rangers and had six strikeouts.
On Tuesday, only 29 of his 87 pitches were fastballs. Sale also went with 28 sliders and 30 changeups. On the night, he generated just six swings and misses.
The Red Sox had Sale pitch just twice in Spring Training and are building him up after his shoulder woes of last summer and the team’s run to the end of October.
“You guys want him to pitch the whole year, or do you want him to go out and throw 100 right now and not be there for his team? He’s building,” said pitching coach Dana LeVangie. “He had a long year last year. He’s building up to be the guy he wants to be. He started last year similar. We’re getting to that point, but just not right now.”
As for Sale, he expressed no health concerns. It was hard to argue with his bottom line.
“I just think that’s kind of part of the evolution of the game,” said Sale. “It seemed like even if I threw two or three fastballs in an inning, they were ready for it. You kind of see how the game goes, see how the swings are in the at-bats and adjust accordingly.”
Cora sees light
Though Bogaerts and others were clearly frustrated after the game, Cora sounded the most upbeat he’s been during the rut.
“Honestly, after tonight, I feel better,” Cora said. “It was a game, 1-0. We had a chance. We competed. It’s not that we haven’t been competing, but most of the games we were out of it right away. We were a few feet from tying the game in the ninth inning. We lost. I know what the record is. But I can go home and I can get some sleep.”