It wasn’t until the bottom of the eighth inning that I finally turned off Friday’s Red Sox game, when Houston’s Carlos Correa and Evan Gattis each homered off of Joe Kelly to give the Astros a 7-3 lead – ultimately, the final score.
Up until that point, the Sox had been hanging around. Homers by Mitch Moreland and J.D. Martinez kept them in the game, at least to the point where it still seemed like they had a chance for a late game comeback. They were only down one heading into the eighth. Stranger things have happened.
But then Kelly came in, the Astros belted those homers, suddenly it was a four-run game, and that was it. I had seen all that I needed to see. I had stuck around for that long, but that was all I could take. I immediately turned off the television.
Truth be told, even though the Red Sox were never out of the game until the eighth, it already felt like they had lost many innings before. That’s how it feels every time Chris Sale has a rough day on the mound. Losing the game is one thing, but losing because Sale wasn’t good enough to get the job done? The sting of those losses is always amplified.
It’s hard to explain, but Sale is typically so lights out on the mound that it’s actually jarring whenever he has a bad game. And Friday’s start can’t even be classified as a disaster. He still went six innings, eventually settling in and finding a rhythm. But when he gives up four runs through the first three innings of the game, as a fan, you already feel deflated just from seeing Sale struggle out of the gate.
And if Friday seemed like an off day for Sale, it was just a small sample size of the struggles he had during his previous start. He pitched at Fenway Park against the Braves on Sunday, and for Sale standards, he got absolutely rocked. He only lasted four and a third innings, and he got hammered for six runs. It was like he suddenly became possessed by the Fenway ghost of Clay Buchholz.
Here’s my point: any other Red Sox starting pitcher has a bad game, and it’s just another bad game for the Red Sox. For example, when David Price gets pulled after one inning during a start against the Yankees because of soreness, not to mention because he got pounded for four runs in the inning, it’s just more argument material for the We-Never-Should-Have-Given-Price-That-Massive-Contract crowd. It’s not like they didn’t have enough material to work with already.
When Rick Porcello, who inexplicably won the AL Cy Young in 2016, only lasts three or four innings in a start, it’s not earth-shattering news. Just another reminder that Porcello is a somewhat flawed pitcher who got lucky enough to have a career year in a down year for pitchers around the league. And when Drew Pomeranz is scratching and clawing just to get through the first inning after loading the bases with no outs, it’s just another chapter in the Pomeranz Experience. Been there, done that.
But when Chris Sale has one of those games? It’s like the sky is falling. We’re so used to seeing Sale pitch deep into ballgames, usually the seventh or eighth inning, only allowing maybe a run on maybe three or four hits, and striking out at least 10-12 batters. He’s usually so automatic that he doesn’t even look human … more like a skinny, lanky robot designed to just throw absolute flames past Major League hitters.
Unfortunately, no pitcher in history has ever been great 100 percent of the time. Even the all-time greats have days where they can’t catch a break, and sadly Sale is no exception. When it happens to other pitchers, it’s whatever. But when it happens to Sale, it’s actually painful to watch. He’s the one Red Sox pitcher who you expect to turn in a Cy Young-like performance with every single start, and you just don’t know what you’re supposed to do with yourself when you see him out there getting his butt kicked.
The good news is that he’s just going through a slump right now. Soon enough, he’ll be back to his normal self, mowing down hitters and racking up the Cy Young votes. Hopefully it happens before the Red Sox make their next trip to Yankee Stadium. The last thing we need is Yankee fans starting a new tradition of chanting “WHO’S YOUR DAD-DY!” at Sale whenever he takes the mound.