Opening Day

What's it like to face Chris Sale right now? 'More comfortable,' say Blue Jays hitters

What's it like to face Chris Sale right now? 'More comfortable,' say Blue Jays hitters

BOSTON - Blue Jays catcher Danny Jansen had never faced Red Sox left-hander Chris Sale before the home opener Tuesday at Fenway Park, so naturally he turned to video.

Including playoffs, Sale has made nearly 300 lifetime appearances, but Jansen was only interested in two of them: his opening starts of 2019. Someone facing the guy throwing 91 or 92 mph wouldn't necessarily scout the vintage Sale blowing people away with triple-digit heat.

"There's no point, right now," Jansen said matter-of-factly, and if that quote sounds disrespectful, it most assuredly wasn't. "Just watching what he's doing now, seeing what he's going within the present moment.

"I never had a chance to face him last year when I was up here. I was just going off what he's been throwing lately. He's 88-92. Still has a good changeup, still has that slider that's effective. I was going up there trying to see a fastball kind of middle and just react to everything else."

Sale's velocity continued riding the rollercoaster in the 7-5 loss, and so did his results. He came out in the first inning sitting at 92-94 mph and retired the first seven he faced. But just when his outing seemed promising, the Blue Jays struck for a pair of runs in the third before Sale's command went haywire in the fourth and his velocity dipped back into the 89-90 mph range.

The Blue Jays didn't exactly tattoo him, but they controlled him. His low point came when back-to-back runs scored on a passed ball and steal of home. "I don't know if I've ever pitched like this in my life," Sale acknowledged, and Blue Jays hitters backed up him, even while noting that he can still be effective in a diminished form.

"He battled," said outfielder Billy McKinney, who recorded a pair of singles. "We got the timely hits when we needed. He looked poised pretty much. We just got the better part of him."

McKinney provided a decent window into Sale's current plight. Sale tried working him up and in with fastballs in the third, but an 89 mph two-seamer got neither up enough nor in enough and the left-handed hitter lined it to right. An inning later, 
McKinney saw a slider, changeup, and good 94-mph fastball before blooping a slider that caught too much of the plate into center field for another hit.

"He threw a good pitch," McKinney said. "I just got lucky."

Multiple Jays noted the obvious, that Sale's velocity drop made him less intimidating.

"It's a little bit more comfortable," Jansen allowed. "It is. He's one of the best pitchers in the game when he's throwing 99 like his normal self. It was a little bit more comfortable today. I've never faced him in the past, so I didn't really have a baseline to go off of. I was just trying to see his fastball and changeup and adjust to the slider."

Added manager Charlie Montoyo: "Right now, he's not throwing 95. He's throwing 90, 91. That should be a little bit easier to hit."

Blue Jays veteran Justin Smoak didn't play after being scratched with a sore neck, but he watched, and he has faced Sale more than anyone in a Toronto uniform, batting .222 with a home run in 27 at-bats. He's not betting against the left-hander.

"He's nasty," Smoak said. "No matter if he's at his best or not, he still gets out. That's one of the best pitchers in the league. Yeah, when he's throwing 97-98, that's a little different than 93-94. The slider still plays. The changeup still plays."We don't go out there saying, 'He's throwing 89, 90 today, he's going to be easy to hit.' No. he's Chris Sale. He's got nasty stuff. We were able to get some runs off him, and that doesn't happen very often."

Smoak was talking about the old Chris Sale. The new one is building a new library of tape that's now three starts long, and for the first time ever, opposing hitters like what they see.

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.

Chris Sale admits he's never felt this lost on the mound in his life

Chris Sale admits he's never felt this lost on the mound in his life

BOSTON - Cold weather aside, Tuesday’s Red Sox home opener got off to an encouraging start.

Several notable players from past Red Sox championship teams joined the festivities with trophies in hand, last year’s champs collected their new rings, and the Super Bowl LIII champion Patriots joined for the ceremonial first pitch. Then, ace Chris Sale pitched a 1-2-3 first inning and clocked a 94 mph fastball on the radar gun.

Things went downhill from there.

Sale, who let up seven runs on Opening Day in Seattle and then had a career-low average fastball velocity of 89.1 mph in Oakland, saw his struggles continue in his third start. The left-hander allowed five runs, seven hits, and even a steal of home in only four innings pitched.

With a 9.00 ERA after three outings, Sale was asked after Boston’s 7-5 loss if he’s ever felt this lost on the mound.

“Never in my life,” Sale replied.

That’s an alarming statement from someone who just inked a five-year, $145 million contract prior to the season, and it’s certainly not one that is going to help the Red Sox feel at ease.

Sale didn’t mince words or make excuses after the game. The 30-year-old took full ownership of the loss.

“We’ve got to win that game,” Sale said. “This is very easy to throw on the pile and say we aren’t playing good. This wasn’t us not playing good, this was me sucking today. That’s frustrating because today was the day we were going to turn it around.”

Manager Alex Cora noted Sale’s improvement in velocity from his last start, but called the ace’s off-speed pitches “inconsistent.”

“He wasn’t able to put hitters away,” Cora said. “Velocity was 91, 92. Showed some flashes of 94, 95 at the end. But as far as the off-speed, slider, a little inconsistent … the changeup wasn’t great.

“He didn’t have too many swings and misses, and we paid the price.”

Meanwhile, the Red Sox are 3-9 on the season with sole possession of last place in the American League East. They’ll have a day off on Wednesday, then look to get on the right track Thursday vs. Toronto.

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.

Manny Ramirez hopes to make Hall of Fame, admits he has made mistakes

Manny Ramirez hopes to make Hall of Fame, admits he has made mistakes

Manny Ramirez knows it might never happen because of choices he made involving performance-enhancing drugs, but he hopes to reach the Hall of Fame.

Speaking to reporters after Tuesday's ring ceremony, where he participated in on-field ceremonies as a representative of the 2004 and 2007 World Series champions, Ramirez acknowledged his mistakes, but hoped for the best.

"We're praying," Ramirez said. "I think life, everybody makes mistakes, nobody's perfect, but I think with time, if it's God's will, we're going to be there. If not, hey, we're just happy we got the opportunity to play the game that we love."

Ramirez was suspended twice for violating the league's performance-enhancing drug policy, including in 2011, when he retired rather than serve a 100-game suspension with the Rays. He was also reported to be on a list of players who failed drug tests in 2003, though he wasn't punished for that possible transgression because the results were meant to remain private.

As a result, he hasn't come anywhere close to Cooperstown, despite retiring with 555 home runs and a lifetime average of .312.

The word often used to describe Manny Ramirez throughout his tumultuous eight years in Boston was "mercurial." It wasn't a compliment so much as a catch-all for behavior that ranged from unreliable to borderline crazy.

But time apparently matures all, because the Ramirez who spoke on Tuesday sounded surprisingly grounded.

"Right now, I've got a family, I've got three kids, and I've got a wife, and that's the most important thing in my life," he said. "That's what I enjoy right now. Being with my family, being with my mom, that's she's still alive. I thought playing against the Yankees was going to be tough, but raising boys is something different."

He also saluted his time in Boston.

"This is the best city to play in and I was here," he said. "Oh man, it's awesome. Every time I went to left field, all the fans cheering and cheering my name, it's a great feeling, especially when you come back and you see Alex (Cora) and you see (David Ortiz), and you see Pedro.

"When I came to Boston, to be honest, I knew it was going to be tough. But it also makes me a better player just to always be on top of my game and always give all I've got. I know sometimes a lot of people saw that I was maybe not working that hard, but I was working hard. I was doing my thing, I was putting my numbers, but like I said, this is an awesome place to play. It was God's purpose for me to be here and play here."

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.