By Tony Massarotti, 98.5 The Sports Hub
The plan, from inception, was for the Red Sox to be stronger at the end than the beginning, to be better in August, September and, perhaps, October. And from the start, there has been uncertainty. Because the Red Sox now have to get to October first.
Which brings us to Chris Sale.
Don’t look now Red Sox fans, but following last night’s 5-4 cliffhanger over the Tampa Bay Rays, the Red Sox have precisely 60 games left in the tractor pull that has been the 2019 season. Sale has maybe a dozen starts left to validate a baby-Sale plan that certainly seemed to have blown up in the Red Sox’ faces in the earliest stages of this season, when the Red Sox opened by going 6-13 and Sale went 1-7.
Simply put, it backfired.
Or did it?
Here’s the point: what if Sale pitches well down the stretch, up to and into the postseason, and the Red Sox actually make a run? What then? Will the Red Sox be vindicated? Sale is built of angel hair, has a history of fading in August and September. Last year, he broke down altogether. Then the Red Sox gave him a five-year, $145-million contract that takes him through 2024, upping the stakes for what has felt like one of the more arrogant and downright risky experiments in recent Sox history.
And then, after blowing a 2-0 lead last night, Sale argued to stay on the mound for a season-high 116 pitches, giving the Red Sox a sixth inning on a night when they normally would have cut him at five. (Given the way things ended for a Red Sox bullpen that should be measured with a Geiger counter, that inning proved enormous.) That decision by manager Alex Cora told us plenty – “He’s healthy, which is the important thing,” said Cora – and both Sale and the Sox were rewarded with a victory.
Let’s put that detail in perspective. Sale has been here three years now. This was the fifth time he has ever thrown as many as 116 pitches in a game. The only two times he has thrown more – 117 and 118, both in 2017 – came against the Yankees.
“Obviously tonight, I wanted to get back out there,” he told reporters. “Where we’re at, I’ve personally leaned on the bullpen a lot over the year. They’ve done a heck of a job. They’ve picked up a lot of innings for us. I’ve wanted to pick them up and kind of push our team through that. I feel like I actually did something.”
Now, what happens going forward? Good question. Sale’s next turn is currently set for Sunday against the Yankees in a nationally-televised affair at Fenway Park. In two starts against the Yankees this season, he is 0-2 with a 6.55 ERA. Just recently, Sale won at home for the first time in more than a year. The Red Sox have been victorious in each of Sale’s last two outings but, incredibly, they have not won three straight starts by their ace all season.
Will that change on Sunday? Has Sale turned a corner? Does he now have his legs and best for the stretch drive, up to and into October? We are about to find out.
The Red Sox, after all, essentially gambled their whole season on it.