Chris Sale does ace-like things for 2nd-place Red Sox

Rob Bradford
July 23, 2019 - 11:51 pm

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- When it comes to Tropicana Field, there is going to be one memory that will be tough to knock off the top of the heap for Chris Sale. That would have been on March 31, 1998.

It was the first time Sale ever went to a Major League Baseball game, with the Tigers pounding the Rays just one day after his ninth birthday. He still has the ticket stub back to prove it, along with the smallish Tampa Bay t-shirt he wore to the game.

After that, however, Tuesday night was right up there.

Sale stepped up in what should be classified as his most important start of the season, allowing two runs over six innings to help lead the Red Sox to their 5-4 win over the Rays. It is a victory that moves Alex Cora's club percentage points ahead of Tampa Bay, keeping it two games out of the final Wild Card spot. (For a complete recap of the Sox' win, click here.)

Sale's job description suggests that he should be the right man for this type of job. He filled the bill this time around.

"I obviously have a job to do here, and I know what my role is for this team, and I wanted to get back to that," he said. "I want to be able to go out there and pitch quality innings and give our team a chance to win, and when I leave the mound, we’re either winning or we have a pretty good chance to win that game."

The manner in which Sale led his team to a season-high 10 games over .500 should be noted, as well.

With the game tied at 2-2, a runner on first base with two outs and Sale having thrown 114 pitches, Cora came to the mound to talk to his ace.

"He made pitches," the manager said. "I went out there to take him out and he said he had three more pitches left, to leave him out there. Actually, we were going to take him out in the fifth and he said, I’m in a groove. I’ve got it. Trust the player, trust him. He’s healthy, which is the most important thing and he was making pitches so we kept him in."

Two pitches later to Guillermo Heredia and Sale had delivered an inning-ending line-out to shortstop to cap his outing. And when Christian Vazquez came on for a pinch-hit solo homer the next half-inning, the pitcher was on his way to earning his fifth win of the season.

"I obviously respect the hell out of it," said Sale of Cora's decision to leave him in. "I kind of put him in a tough spot after the fifth inning when my pitch count was getting up there. He asked me in the dugout, I walked a guy and was obviously racking up the pitches, but I had some conviction with how I was feeling and where I was at in the game. I just told him I thought I could get it. I’m obviously thankful he left me in."

The showings of Eduardo Rodriguez and Sale through the first two games of the series was exactly what this Red Sox team needed heading into the most crucial stretch of the season. The Sox have now gotten three straight starts of six innings or better for the first time since late June.

"That was the script before the season," said Cora regarding the recent success of his team's starting pitching. "Everybody knows it. One thing about our guys, you look at the baseball cards, the back part of it, they’ve done it before. We trust them. We know they can do it again."