Coming into Thursday’s ALDS Game 1, Chris Sale couldn’t hold back his excitement to finally be pitching in the postseason.
“I’m 28 years old, so I’ve been waiting for this for about 23 years,” Sale said in a press conference. “This has been a long time coming.”
Sale, a Lakeland, Florida native, broke into the league in 2008 as a member of the Chicago White Sox. In seven seasons in the Windy City, the southpaw posted a record of 74-50, ERA of 3.00 and tallied 1,244 strikeouts over 1110.0 frames. He went to five All-Star games and led the AL in strikeouts in 2015.
However, a case can be made that his first campaign in Boston as a member of the Red Sox was his best one yet.
Not because he was able to fan 12.9 batters per nine innings, or set a career-high in strikeouts (308) or even make his sixth trip to the All-Star game, which he was the Red Sox’ first pitcher to start the game since 1999 (Pedro Martinez). But, rather for the sheer fact that he was the ace of a contending ball club that won a highly contested AL East and was going to the playoffs – something he’d never done.
Unfortunately for Sale, his debut was one he’d likely rather forget.
The Astros bats got to the electic left-hander early, and never let up, knocking him out in the sixth inning to down the Red Sox 8-2 in the ALDS opener.
Sale, who entered the game on eight days rest after Red Sox skipper John Farrell opted to go with Hector Velazquez to close out the season against these same Astros, looked rusty.
Sale, who had been so effective this season when ahead in the count (1.50 ERA and 190 strikeouts), was just the opposite of that.
It took Houston just three batters to go up 2-0. After going down in the count 0-2, Astros third baseman Alex Bregman battled back – taking the next two pitches and fouling the fifth pitch of the at-bat out of play. On the ensuing pitch, Sale hung an 84.2 mile per hour, flat slider inside and Bregman took it over the left-field wall to put the home team up 1-0.
The next batter, Jose Altuve. Like Bregman, Sale had Altuve in an 0-2 hole, but the 5-foot-6 AL MVP front-runner took the third pitch, a 97.3 mile per hour fastball, over the center-field wall pushing the Houston lead to 2-0.
But baseball is a long game, and being down by a pair of runs after one inning isn’t usually a cause for concern. For the Red Sox, their approach seemed to be simple going against Justin Verlander. Grind out at-bat after at-bat after at-bat and it worked early.
Andrew Benintendi’s 11-pitch at-bat to close the first inning played dividends for the Red Sox, as Mitch Moreland drew a base on balls with one out in the second. A Dustin Pedroia walk pushed the former Texas Ranger to second with Rafael Devers up. Although Devers couldn’t get the job done, Sandy Leon could, as he took an 0-2 curveball into center field. Pedrdoia was called out at third, and Moreland at home, but after a review, it was concluded Moreland crossed the plate before the out at third was made, which resulted in a 2-1 game.
Still trailing 2-1, Boston notched the score at 2-2 in the fourth via a Devers sacrifice fly to score Mookie Betts.
However, it was all Astros from there. A Marwin Gonzalez two-out double on a 97.6 mile per hour fastball inside, brought home Evan Gattis and Josh Reddick to push the Astros back in front. In the bottom of the fifth, Altuve took Sale deep for his second home run of the game to make it 5-2.
After just five innings and runners on first and second, Joe Kelly took over in the sixth. Two more Astros runs put this one out of reach at 7-2.
Altuve capped the scoring at eight when he left the yard for the third time, outscoring the Red Sox by himself.
Verlander tossed 6.0 innings of six-hit, two-run ball to snatch the win for Houston. The bullpen finished the job from there.
Game 2 is Friday, Oct. 6, at 2:05 p.m. as Drew Pomeranz (0-0, 0.00 ERA) opposes Dallas Kuechel (0-0, 0.00) at Minute Maid Park.