Red Sox

Chris Sale finally wins at Fenway Park and leaves Red Sox with reasons for optimism

Chris Sale finally wins at Fenway Park and leaves Red Sox with reasons for optimism

BOSTON -- Over the last year, Chris Sale has made all manner of starts at Fenway Park. He has allowed five runs and he has allowed zero runs. He has struck out 17 and he has struck out one. He has pitched with playoff seeding on the line and nothing at all at stake. He has dazzled and he has disappointed.

The one thing he hadn't done, until Thursday afternoon vs. the Blue Jays, was earn a win.

It's hard to believe that one of the best pitchers in Red Sox history could own such an ignominious record, but here it was — no one had made more consecutive starts at Fenway Park (13) without a victory than Sale.

The Red Sox had won five of them anyway, including two when Sale went at least six innings without allowing an earned run, so it's not like he had pitched terribly. Wins are context-dependent and not necessarily an accurate reflection of a pitcher's performance. But come on — we're talking about Chris Sale! For him to go more than a year between Fenway victories (his last coming on July 11, 2018 vs. the Rangers) is practically unfathomable.

The Sale who ended that streak on Thursday may not have looked exactly like his vintage self, particularly as he searched to find his fastball velocity and command in the early innings. But he produced vintage results over six shutout frames, striking out 12, hitting 96 mph late, and putting an end to a run of futility that was beginning to make him wonder when the madness that is his underachieving 2019 season would end.

"I think this year has just kind of been all over the place," Sale said. "I've been as bad as I've ever been in my career and I've also had some of the best games I've ever had in my career this year. So it's one of those things, it's more confusing than anything. Kind of all over the map. You go out there, and 17 strikeouts, complete-game shutout and then games when I'm not even getting out of the fourth inning. It's just more confusing. I feel like there are times when I'm racking up strikeouts but I'm also sitting there in a five-run hole. It's like one thing but not the other, or two things, but not the third one. It's just about doing it all at the same time and getting the results you need."

Facing a Blue Jays team that had pounded him in three previous starts this season, including the home opener, to the tune of a 7.98 ERA, Sale varied his pitch mix with electric results. His fastball sat at 91-92 mph in the early innings while he relied extensively on a sweeping slider and darting changeup. He struck out the side in the first and had 12 Ks through five.

As the game wore on, his velocity increased, too, nearing 97 mph on his final strikeout of the game to end the fifth. With the Red Sox comfortably leading 4-0, he was lifted after 101 pitches and the bullpen brought it home without incident for once.

And just like that, Sale finally could call himself a winner in Fenway Park.

"Long overdue," he said. "Nobody else to blame but myself, but obviously glad to get this one out of the way and now we can just focus on what's ahead and keep the ball rolling and have a happy flight, get on the plane and get down to Baltimore and start off on the right foot down there."

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.

Want to know what it's like to be on both sides of a Mookie Betts-style trade? These 2 GMs are your guys

Want to know what it's like to be on both sides of a Mookie Betts-style trade? These 2 GMs are your guys

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- It's hard to determine which side has more to lose in a Mookie Betts trade -- the Red Sox or the team that acquires him.

From the Boston perspective, receiving fair value for the defending MVP will be a struggle, since he's likely to play out his contract and reach free agency next fall, thus limiting any potential return. On the other end, his new team runs the risk of surrendering assets for a rental.

While there aren't any perfect analogies to provide a roadmap, the Diamondbacks and Cardinals can offer some insight into how the process might unfold, based on their blockbuster Paul Goldschmidt trade last winter.

The six-time All-Star and three-time Gold Glover went from Arizona to St. Louis on Dec. 5 for a trio of prospects. He had one year and $14.5 million remaining on his contract, and the Diamondbacks suspected they wouldn't be able to keep him long-term.

General manager Mike Hazen agonized over how to proceed before pulling the trigger.

"We treaded very, very lightly, knowing it was a tricky situation for us," Hazen said on Wednesday at the GM Meetings. "Paul is a franchise player and he meant everything to our clubhouse, our leadership. But we felt like the position we were in, not necessarily being one player away, if we weren't able to come to a contractual extension with him, what was it going to mean to us down the road?"

On the other end, the Cardinals jumped at the chance to acquire an impact right-handed bat despite having no guarantees he'd wear red for more than a year. Based on their experience with prior rentals like Matt Holliday and Mark McGwire, who ended up committing long-term, the Cards believed they had a chance of retaining Goldschmidt beyond 2019, and indeed they struck a five-year, $130 million extension in spring training.

Still, they couldn't acquire him on the assumption that he'd sign, a lesson worth remembering for anyone considering Betts.

"When you do a trade like that, you make the trade assuming he's going to be a one-year rental, because otherwise, you're setting yourself up to make a bad decision trying to justify the trade that only works if he stays around five or six years," said Cardinals GM Mike Girsch. "We were hopeful. We've had good success with one-year rentals who have come to St. Louis, enjoyed the environment we have, the fan base, the full stadium and everything else, and signed here. We've had success doing that over the last 20 years and were hopeful that would happen again. But you've got to make the trade assuming it's a standalone, and if you're not comfortable with it as a standalone, then we wouldn't have done it."

THE FOUR OPTIONS ON THIS KIND OF DEAL

The deliberations in Arizona centered on four options that should sound familiar to Red Sox fans: trade Goldschmidt in the offseason, move him at the deadline if the team isn't contending, let him play out his deal and walk for a compensatory draft pick, or hope the season unfolds in a way that produces a long-term extension.

"All of those scenarios were in play," Hazen said. "The offseason, the in-season, the end-of-season scenarios that you know would be associated with trading now, trading then, holding all the way through, successful year leads to something else [contractually]. There was no real answer sheet to it. We had to make a decision and we did."

One major difference between Goldschmidt and Betts is salary. The $14.5 million remaining on the former's deal fit St. Louis's 2019 salary structure, whereas the $27-$30 million Betts will earn in arbitration could end up pricing him out of all but a handful of markets. Goldschmidt's relative affordability allowed the Cardinals to offer a better package of prospects, while his age (31) kept that package reasonable. Betts just turned 27 and is in his prime. His extension should end up being more than double Goldschmidt's.

"Budgets are real and payrolls are real," Girsch said. "The higher the salary, the less I can give up, because I don't have money left to go do something else, and the lower the salary, the more I can give up, right? So it's just how you'd expect. You're not just trading for the player. You're trading for the player with his salary commitment, so you have to figure that in."

Meanwhile, Hazen knew the team would lose the trade in the court of public opinion, at least initially.

"We were very cognizant," he said. "Had to turn that off pretty quickly. We knew that was coming, and understood why it came. That's part of what we do. I think separating that out and still feeling like the decision was the right decision, I felt OK about it because of that."

THE RETURN ON THE BLOCKBUSTER

The package he received -- catcher Carson Kelly, right-hander Luke Weaver, minor-league infielder Andy Young -- appeared underwhelming, but all three ended up showing promise.

Kelly hit 18 homers with an .826 OPS as Arizona's starting catcher, Weaver went 4-3 with a 2.94 ERA in 12 starts before being shut down with a sore elbow that did not require surgery, and Young slammed 29 homers between Double- and Triple-A. It's a virtual certainty none will become a star on Goldschmidt's level, but that doesn't mean they can't provide value, which is a calculus the Red Sox front office is currently considering.

In St. Louis, Goldschmidt hit 34 homers, but posted his lowest OPS (.821) since 2011. He still helped lead the Cardinals to the playoffs, where he hit .429 with two homers in an NLDS victory over the Braves before St. Louis fell to the Nationals in the NLCS. 

"Our sense was he was a guy who'd be comfortable in a midwestern city in a baseball-crazed market in a place that was competitive in the type of clubhouse environment we have," Girsch said. "It felt like we had a good shot at making this work, but until you meet him, you're never 100 percent sure."

While Hazen is happy with both the return and the fact that Goldschmidt received a long-term extension, he's not going to pretend he enjoyed trading a franchise icon.

"I don't know how you value that stuff," he said. "I still don't know if we did it appropriately. History will tell us, I think. It still doesn't feel great, but look, at some point, we're charged with making the best decisions we can moving forward."

The Red Sox know the feeling. Making a palatable deal for Betts feels like an even greater challenge than what the Diamondbacks and Cardinals managed to swing for Goldschmidt.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.

Red Sox pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez places 6th in AL Cy Young Award voting

Red Sox pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez places 6th in AL Cy Young Award voting

MLB's 2019 Cy Young Awards were handed out on Wednesday with Houston Astros right-hander Justin Verlander and New York Mets righty Jacob deGrom taking home the hardware. It was Verlander's second Cy Young of his illustrious career and deGrom's second consecutive season winning the award.

One Boston Red Sox pitcher managed to work his way into the Cy Young conversation as well. That would be left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez, who was a bright spot in an otherwise disappointing 2019 Boston rotation.

Rodriguez placed sixth in American League Cy Young voting, earning three fourth-place votes and two fifth-place votes for a total of eight points. The 26-year-old finished behind Verlander, Gerrit Cole (Astros), Charlie Morton (Rays), Shane Bieber (Indians), and Lance Lynn (Rangers).

E-Rod, who has had issues going deep into games throughout his career, took a huge step forward in that department last season. His 203 1/3 innings pitched in 2019 demolished his previous career-high of 137 1/3.

Rodriguez nearly joined the 20-win club in 2019, finishing 19-6 with a career-best 3.81 ERA.

The starting rotation is one of the Red Sox' biggest question marks heading into 2020, but Boston can at least take solace in the fact their hard-throwing former top prospect is making strides in the right direction.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.