Robin Ventura described it as a “weird” inning for Chris Sale, one in which the amped up four-time All-Star hit himself in the head with a baseball after a wild streak resulted in 36 pitches and two runs allowed.
And it never should have happened.
Pitching coach Don Cooper was still bothered Sunday morning by a ruling from plate umpire Bill Miller on Saturday that resulted in Byung Ho Park being awarded first base when a 2-2 slider from Sale struck his leg. Only problem was, Park also swung at the pitch and appeared to go around for the third strike. But Park instead went to first to load the bases and the inning got real dicey for Sale, who forced in runs with a walk and another hit batsmen. Sale recovered, of course, and caught fire, retiring 19 of the last 20 he faced to become baseball’s first seven-game winner. But Cooper thought Sale never should been in the situation in the first place.
“Chris last night was fine,” Cooper said. “He got the first two guys out. Gave up two hits and struck Park out with a swing and miss. Then everybody said it gets to be an ugly inning. He should have been out of the inning. It cost us two runs, at least an inning worth of pitches and put the game in jeopardy — one small miss.”
It didn’t take Cooper or manager Robin Ventura long to notice something was a little amiss with Sale, who admits he was fired up to face the Minnesota Twins, a team he struggled against last season. Sale intentionally has worked at lower velocities for most of the season. Just about the time the radar gun flashed 97 mph on a fastball to Eduardo Nunez did Ventura realize Sale brought extra intensity to the mound.
“He has been a little more of a hybrid as far as velocity, taking a little off, being in the zone,” Ventura said. “That’s what I mean by weird. He just hasn’t done that in a long time. …
“Maybe his first couple years of starting, if he either got banged up a little bit or if it was an erratic inning, he would just throw it harder. I think that’s what it seemed like last night.”
Cooper and second baseman Brett Lawrie gave Sale some encouragement during a mound visit after the left-hander’s bases-loaded walk of Oswaldo Arcia, which made it a 1-0 game. Not long after, Sale got out of the jam and took over.
Lawrie said his brief speech wasn’t “anything crazy,” but preferred to keep details between him and Sale. But he was very impressed with Sale’s rebound.
“As soon as he finds what he’s looking for, its takes two seconds, boom, as soon as he gets it he’s locked in and he leaves it all out on the field for us,” Lawrie said. “We don’t have worry about Chris.
“I don’t think anybody was that panicked to be honest.”
Ventura said he wasn’t overly concerned in the dugout, either. He intended to give Sale plenty of leeway to work with to get out of the jam. Sale only allowed one more batter to reach base in his final six innings, which gave his offense ample time to rally.
Afterward, Sale credited his teammates for a big emotional assist. Happy with his team’s victory, he still seemed a little disappointed with how he reacted to the situation, what with slamming a baseball off his head.
“When I get mad I feel like hurting myself,” Sale said with a laugh. “I don’t get it. I don’t understand it. That’s another thing, too. That’s something I’ve gotta get over. That’s the immaturity part coming out and that’s when the overthrowing happens and that’s when I dug myself a hole. Just gotta quit being an idiot out there, trust in the process and rely on my guys, because I’ve got some good ones behind me.”