SEATTLE -- Chris Sale doesn’t shy away from big moments. He relished the opportunity to take the ball for the last out in the World Series and the first pitch of a new season.
It is a feat that has only been accomplished two other times in the history of baseball. Madison Bumgarner did it for the San Francisco Giants in 2014-15. Scott McGregor of the Orioles was the last to achieve it in the American League in 1983-84.
“I hope we have this same conversation again,” said Sale.
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What Sale doesn’t want is the back end of a historic moment to go the way it did on Thursday in Seattle.
He didn’t mince words after the 12-4 loss to the Mariners.
“It sucks,” Sale said. “First one of the year. You want to start off on the right foot.”
The Red Sox left-hander did cruise through the first inning, striking out the side.
And then the wheels came off.
By the time Sale walked off the mound after three innings he had allowed seven earned runs, including three home runs. He did not allow that many earned runs or home runs in a single game all of last season. In fact, it was his worst start in a Red Sox uniform.
“He was very erratic with fastball location,” manager Alex Cora said. “And his slider wasn’t great."
Sale insisted on Wednesday that he wouldn’t hold back to start this season despite missing time last year with shoulder issues. Sale also dismissed the idea that signing an extension and turning 30 on Friday alters his perspective.
“If I have a ball in my hand and I’m standing on the mound and it’s go time, I’m going to compete as hard as I can as long as I can.”
No one can argue the compete part, but Sale didn’t last very long. He was replaced after three innings and a whopping 76 pitches.
The reality is, the Sale we saw Thursday night is not the guy we’ll be watching in a few weeks. He only pitched in two spring training games and is still building up arm strength and stamina.
But neither Sale or Cora felt a light workload was the issue on Opening Day.
“I should be able to go out there and get it done no matter how many starts I have,” Sale said. “No matter what kind of stuff I have that day."
The Sox seem willing to sacrifice a few early season contests if it means winning games when it really counts.
“He was ready to pitch," Cora said. "We have a plan. We believe in our plan.”
But I wouldn’t blame any Sox fans for being slightly worried. Sale is the guy you expect to set the tone. He’s also the guy who dealt with mild left shoulder inflammation last season and never quite looked the same after going on the injured list. (The artist formerly known as the disabled list.)
When asked if there is anything wrong with him physically, Sale was short but direct. “No,” he said.
The concern outside the clubhouse is because Sale looked more like the guy we saw sporadically in August and September. His velocity was down. His fastball was up.
Newsflash: That’s not a great combination.
It would be silly to panic over one start. But it is OK to worry. A little.
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