Sale learns from flop in ’17 ALDS
If Chris Sale needed any extra motivation heading into his Game 1 start against the Astros tonight in the American League Championship Series, he wouldn’t need to look too hard.
It was a year ago, in his postseason debut against these very same Astros, when he was rocked in his worst start of the season at the worst possible time. It put the Red Sox in a hole they never dug out of as they lost the Division Series in four games.
But as he takes the ball tonight at Fenway Park, that start doesn’t seem to be anything but a reference point.
“I don’t know if it’s motivation,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said. “I think he uses it the other way around, like as a learning experience.”
That seems to mesh with how Sale feels, too. Even before the playoffs began, Sale was adamant he wasn’t trying to go out and erase the memory of that start a year ago. He embraced it, said he looked back on it, and tried to learn from it.
“I’m not going to hide from it,” Sale said before his Game 1 start against the Yankees. “It is what it is. You can Google it now, tomorrow and 100 years and it’s going to be there. I own it. I accept it. And like I said, I’m going to be better. I’m going to go do everything I can to be better. That’s all I can do.”
A week later, nothing much has changed.
To his credit, Sale has been better. Last year, four days after his forgettable Game 1 performance, he tossed 42⁄3 innings of relief in Game 4. This year, he’s had a better start to the playoffs, pitching five strong innings in a Game1 win over the Yankees before throwing a scoreless eighth in the series-clinching win on Tuesday.
So as he heads into the ALCS, the lefty is certainly better prepared. It’s almost the same type of situation as last year — Game 1, opposing Astros ace Justin Verlander — and the approach is no different than usual.
“I think it’s just staying locked in, not trying to play above your playing grade, I guess, not reaching for more,” Sale said. “I think we were a 108-win team for a reason and that’s because everyone did what they needed to do throughout the year to get those wins and guys stepped up.
“I think it’s just more of the same — not trying to do more in these situations where the lights are brighter, the crowds are louder. We don’t need more, we just need the same.”
The challenge is greater, too, as Sale is well aware. In last year’s Game 1, the lefty was hit early and often against the Astros explosive lineup. He gave up back-toback homers to Alex Bregman and Jose Altuve in the first inning, and that set the course. By the end, Sale gave up nine hits and seven earned runs in five innings in an 8-2 Red Sox loss.
Cora, who was the bench coach for the Astros then, said Sale had “good” stuff that day, but his location was off, and “everything happened fast for him.” Sale then made the necessary adjustments when he returned in Game 4, which gives his manager confidence for tonight.
“I think he used that as a learning experience,” Cora said. “You know, it’s not like he wants to beat the Astros more than the Yankees or the Royals. With Chris, he’ll compete at a high level even throwing bullpen. So he’s in a good place. He’s ready to go. And I’m glad that he’s going to throw Game 1 for us.”
READY TO ANSWER QUESTIONS: Chris Sale speaks to the media yesterday at Fenway Park in advance of starting tonight’s Game 1 of the AL Championship Series.