FORT MYERS, Fla. -- A parade of Red Sox players and executives has spent a month assuring us of their innocence and inevitable exoneration once MLB completes its investigation into sign-stealing during the championship 2018 season.
Leave it to plainspoken and accountable Red Sox ace Chris Sale to offer a more nuanced opinion on Sunday.
Speaking publicly for the first time since August, Sale spent about a third of his 30-minute press conference detailing his frustrations with the actions of the 2017 Astros, but he didn't let the Red Sox or manager Alex Cora off the hook when it came to the subject of 2018 and how fans might question the team's accomplishments.
"It's tough, but I understand it," he said. "It's part of the gig. Given what happened with the Astros and then AC coming over and possibly bringing something over, I understand it. They're only trying to do their job and make right by all this."
Sale acknowledged speaking to investigators this winter, and he spoke passionately about wanting to leave the game in better shape than he found it.
"I want to help make this right," he said. "Is it frustrating? Yeah. It took 30 minutes out of one of my days in the offseason? Whatever. But to get the truth and to make this a better game, I'm in. That's what I've talked about basically this whole interview, getting all this right and making this a better game when I leave."
With an investigation hanging over them, the Red Sox struck a decidedly more muted tone than other outraged opponents, with players like L.A.'s Cody Bellinger and Cincinnati's Trevor Bauer blasting Houston as unrepentant cheaters.
"Yeah, it sucks. But what am I going to do? Am I going to hold them at gunpoint?" Sale asked. "Am I going to sit here and curse them out through a bunch of cameras? If I have something to say to them I know those guys. I can get one of their numbers and text them and talk to them face-to-face or whatever. It happened. What are you going to do about it? You can sit around and cry about it or I can get my ass to work and try and win a championship."
Sale does wonder about one start. The Astros pounded him for nine hits and seven runs, including three homers, in Game 1 of the 2017 ALDS. That was Sale's first playoff start, and he has always wondered if Houston knew what was coming.
"I think they ran out of fireworks in Houston," he said. "That guy on the train, I must have kept his job for another year. That was tough. I was standing out there on the mound and saying, 'How the hell are they doing …' They were hitting breaking balls over the fence, hitting fastballs at their neck. Yeah, it crosses your mind. But what kind of idiot do you look like if they actually weren't doing anything? I'm not going to sit there and say they were because I don't have 100 percent evidence. I guess there is in the investigation, but in that specific scenario I don't know.
"You kind of chalk it up to they were a great team that year. It was my first playoff start and I didn't know what I was getting myself into. It happened quick. I was sitting in the locker room afterward and like, 'Man, what just happened.' Knowing what I know now, could it be? Maybe. I'm not here to point fingers. I'm not here to blame anybody. Nothing I do or say today is going to change anything from that start or 10 starts ago or eight years ago."
Sale admitted that players could take matters into their own hands and police the game on the field. Sale did exactly that in 2014 with the White Sox, when he drilled Detroit's Victor Martinez, reportedly in the belief that Martinez was being relayed signs from center field.
"It will be interesting to see how this plays out," Sale said. "I think you're going to see some stuff happen this year. I don't know if it is right, wrong, or indifferent. Guys are certainly welcome to handle things how they want. Different people handle different things differently. And in this scenario I don't think there is any right or wrong way. Guys are going to do what they feel is necessary. I think some people feel more cheated than others, and rightfully so."
And that brings us back to the Red Sox. At the end of Sale's remarks, a reporter basically tried to put words in his mouth that the Red Sox won without cheating, and Sale didn't take the bait.
"It's under investigation right now," he said. "Until that comes out, no one's going to believe what I say. We can sit up here as players and an organization and say all the things we want, but until the hammer drops, that's when the truth comes out. Just kind of wasted breath for me to sit up here and keep talking about it."
Quite the contrary. He had already said quite a bit.