MIAMI — Two scoreless innings in the All-Star Game fit the bill for the final act of Chris Sale’s first half. He struck out a pair, including Miami’s own Giancarlo Stanton in the first inning, and he worked around a pair of singles in the second inning with the help of a double play.
He even came close to scraping 100 mph on the radar gun, registering a 99.8 mph fastball to per MLB.com's initial measurement.
“I was only covering two innings,” said Sale, who threw 20 of 28 pitches for strikes. “I was able to kind of let loose a little bit and air it out. Probably wouldn’t take that pitching style into the regular season, but we’re here. It’s the time to do it. Have fun.”
In Sale, the Red Sox had, literally, the best pitcher in the majors in the first half. Tuesday just rolled that into one ceremonial night of fun.
Now, it’s on to an area that is something less than a question mark, but at least something to watch closely considering his past: the second half.
Sale is not a pitcher with a ton left to prove, outside of postseason work — which he’s never had a chance to have. He excels at essentially everything.
But what he did last year down the stretch is reason to believe Sale’s excellence can be sustained.
His second-half ERA last year, 3.28, was basically the same as his first-half mark, 3.38. He actually struck out more batters in the second half, 9.7 per nine, than he did the first half, 8.9.
The lefty has not always been so good down the stretch, however. Including last year, his career ERA prior to the break is 2.74. Afterward, it’s 3.31.
“I think just a little bit more focus,” Sale said of 2016’s final months. “I think preparation in between starts, the things that get you fresh, ready to go out there the fifth day. Obviously we’re in a pretty good position. I think this year I’ll have a little more incentive. There will be a little bit more on the line. I’m excited. I’m looking forward to that.”
Sale is a pitcher who both talks the talk and walks the walk when it comes to winning, that it’s what matters above all else.
“It’s what we sign up for,” Sale said. “We played really good over the first half. I think a few people that questioned us, I think we responded really well. We’ve got a really talented young group of guys in our clubhouse. I think we all believe in ourselves, and that’s all that matters.”
Asked if he had any trouble not getting amped up to set All-Star Game records, Sale dismissed the idea he’s pitching for such things.
“I don’t play this game for history or numbers,” he said. “Personally, I don’t. I like going out there and competing. I like going out there and pitching as good as I can. However it shakes out, it does.”
Sale has a couple days to rest now, driving to his Florida home after Tuesday’s game. Part of what made this All-Star Game special for Sale — besides the fact that he has started two Midsummer Classics in a row — is that he was pitching so close to where he grew up.
Warming up in the bullpen Tuesday, he tossed the ball to his coach at Florida Gulf Coast University, Dave Tollett — a repeat of events from Sale’s first big league All-Star Game in Kansas City.
“Have a nice family day tomorrow, jump in the pool, have a barbecue tomorrow night,” Sale said. “I’m excited for that.”
Then it’s on to a second half where he can certainly dominate, and now, as he said, he has a bit more incentive too.