Sale less than hoped

Boston Herald - - 2018 ALCS - By STEPHEN HE­WITT * — if nec­es­sary Twit­ter: @steve_he­witt

With his shoul­der prob­lems seem­ingly be­hind him, Chris Sale en­tered his sec­ond post­sea­son with higher ex­pec­ta­tions for him­self, and ready to lead the Red Sox to big­ger things.

The Red Sox ace had a bet­ter start to Oc­to­ber this time around. He was strong in Game 1 of the Di­vi­sion Se­ries against the Yan­kees, and his score­less eighth in­ning of re­lief in New York ear­lier this week was piv­otal in a se­ries-clinch­ing win.

But in last night’s Game 1 of the AL Cham­pi­onship Se­ries, Sale didn’t look like his typ­i­cal self.

Though he gave up just one hit be­fore he ex­ited Fen­way, the left-han­der was far from sharp. And, con­sid­er­ing he was op­pos­ing Astros ace Justin Ver­lan­der, there wasn’t much room for er­ror.

Four nights af­ter shut­ting down the Yan­kees in an ef­fi­cient man­ner, man­ager Alex Cora was hop­ing for six in­nings out of Sale be­fore he turned to his bullpen. Sale lasted only four in­nings, and the Sox trailed 2-0 when he de­parted.

On a cold night at Fen­way, Sale lacked ve­loc­ity and com­mand — two of his trade­marks — and it left the Red Sox in a tem­po­rary hole.

Against the Yan­kees last week, all eyes were on Sale’s fast­ball ve­loc­ity, which had ticked down in his fi­nal start of the reg­u­lar sea­son. Against New York, it was back to nor­mal, as he came out fir­ing in the first in­ning against the Yanks with a heater that av­er­aged 95.1 mph.

Last night against the de­fend­ing World Se­ries champs, Sale’s ve­loc­ity was back down. His first fast­ball of the night was 91 mph, and he av­er­aged 91.3 mph in the first in­ning. He av­er­aged just 92 mph on fast­balls over the course of his out­ing.

It didn’t come back to bite him as he nav­i­gated through a score­less first, but he couldn’t over­come a com­bi­na­tion of a lack of ve­loc­ity and com­mand in the sec­ond.

Af­ter Sale struck out Tyler White, then got Mar­win Gon­za­lez to line out to be­gin the frame, the lefty sud­denly couldn’t find the strike zone. He walked Car­los Correa be­fore throw­ing a wild 3-2 pitch be­hind Martin Mal­don­ado to walk him as well. He then walked Josh Red­dick to load the bases.

Ge­orge Springer made him pay, tak­ing a 3-2 fast­ball and ri­fling it to left field on a ball third base­man Ed­uardo Nunez was un­able to come up with. That scored Correa and Mal­don­ado to give the Astros a 2-0 lead.

Sale is­sued a lead­off walk to Alex Breg­man in the third, but the lefty was able to find a groove. He forced a pop fly by Yuli Gur­riel be­fore Sandy Leon caught Breg­man try­ing to steal sec­ond. Sale then punched out White again to end the third.

Sale was his typ­i­cal self in the fourth with a 1-2-3 in­ning. Af­ter get­ting just two swings and misses in his first 69 pitches, he had four in the 17-pitch fourth, which ended with an 89 mph back­door slider that caught Mal­don­ado look­ing. It was by far his best in­ning, but at 86 pitches, Cora elected to turn to Joe Kelly.

Ver­lan­der seemed un­hit­table through the first four in­nings, but the Red Sox fi­nally got to him in the fifth.

Af­ter set­ting down the Red Sox lineup eas­ily in 48 pitches through the first four in­nings, the right-han­der lost con­trol in the fifth. He gave up a lead­off sin­gle to Steve Pearce, then struck out Brock Holt look­ing be­fore he couldn’t find the strike zone. He sur­ren­dered three con­sec­u­tive walks — Nunez, Jackie Bradley Jr., Mitch More­land — that scored the Sox’ first run. Af­ter Mookie Betts hit into a force out at the plate, the Sox scored the ty­ing run on a wild pitch to An­drew Ben­in­tendi.

The Astros got the lead right back in the top of the sixth as Kelly hit Breg­man with a 100 mph pitch, and Gur­riel hit what should have been a dou­ble play ball to third, but Nunez couldn’t han­dle the ball. Three bat­ters later, Correa knocked in Breg­man by loft­ing a sin­gle to left-cen­ter.

STAFF PHOTO BY CHRISTO­PHER EVANS

SEND­ING HIM BACK: Red Sox hit­ter An­drew Ben­in­tendi re­acts to a called third strike to end the fifth in­ning of ALCS Game 1 last night at Fen­way Park.

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