Tuesday’s game, overall, by the end, was somewhat crushing. At the end of the day it was just a loss in the middle of May coming off a five-game win streak. Those are bound to happen, and the Red Sox were bound to lose one eventually. However, this was a game where all of the chips seemed to be falling into place for Boston. They got three home runs from the middle of their lineup in the first three innings. They got two errors from Nolan Arenado, possibly the best defensive third baseman in the game and certainly one of the best in recent memory. Oh, and they also got an all-time great, 17-strikeout performance from Chris Sale. That’s a game any team wins nine out of ten times, and coming out on the losing end surely leaves a bad taste in our mouths. That said, I’m taking the more positive angle here because watching all of that unfold over the first seven innings was pure, unadulterated bliss.
We all know the baseball season can be kind of a slog. It’s on essentially every day for a six-month stretch spanning the entire summer plus the end of spring and the start of fall. Obviously that’s not to say it’s bad because, well, we all watch it pretty much every night. There must be something good if we’re going to do that, ya know? At the same time, there are certainly points in the year where things drag and you want to just get to the postseason, though I think you can say that about any sport.
Tuesday was an example of the other kind of night. Tuesday was the special night as a fan where winning becomes a sort of secondary concern. Tuesday was a reminder of how much fun it can be to just sit down in front of your TV on a random weekday night in the middle of May and become enthralled by a tall, skinny man on the screen. Tuesday was a callback to your younger days when mystified disbelief was a more common part of your night.
For me, there is something unparalleled in sports to the art of a pitcher just going out and dominating over the course of a start. There are probably examples that prove to be good corollaries and this is likely an example of my bias towards baseball showing, but it’s hard to match the atmosphere around a dominant pitching performance. Sports like golf and tennis where players are without teams can have the same feeling. A hockey goalie can stand out in that kind of way and certain, transcendent basketball stars can take over in an awe-inspiring way as well. With a pitcher, though, it’s different. He has a team he’s pitching for, but he’s also all alone with the spotlight totally on him. Chris Sale took over that spotlight in a way that very few, if any, pitchers can.
Those first three innings on Tuesday in particular took me totally out of the game. The Red Sox did hit, and they hit their three home runs during this part of the game, but all I wanted was for Sale to get back on the mound. Getting the lead was nice, but secondary. It was all about Sale, who struck out the first six batters he saw and eight of the first nine. It was all about seeing what he was going to do with his slider in any given at bat, and what kind of funky swings he was going to induce. His pace slowed down as the game went on, mostly because it had to by the laws of averages, but in the end he had 17 strikeouts in seven innings, which had never been done before. Oh, and he did it without any walks. A big part of me wanted Alex Cora to just say screw it, go out for the eighth and get your 20 strikeouts. That was never going to happen as Sale was at 108 pitches. You need to think about the long-term, but at the same time, in a moment like this, do you? The answer is logically yes, but in the moment I was hoping it was no.
I grew up in the late-90s and early-2000s and my true introduction to baseball was in the hey-day of Pedro Martinez. I was spoiled in that way, seeing that kind of electricity not just from his stuff but from what his stuff did to the Fenway crowd. You think it’s always going to be like that, and then all of a sudden it wasn’t. For a long time, too. The Red Sox had other good pitchers in that time, but they didn’t have that kind of visceral electricity on the mound. Chris Sale is that kind of pitcher. I was too young in Pedro’s days to truly appreciate what I was watching, but that won’t be the case here. Winning and losing is what it’s all about, but Sale is a reminder that there’s more. He’s a reminder that, even in a loss, you can have an incredible amount of fun watching a random baseball game on a Tuesday night in the middle of May. After all, that’s why we watch this every day for six months of the year, right?