Sale learns from flop in ’17 ALDS

Boston Herald - - RED SOX 2018 - By STEPHEN HE­WITT Twit­ter: @Steve_He­witt

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.”

STAFF PHOTO BY CHRISTO­PHER EVANS

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.

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