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The OTM Irish Wake In Celebration of Chris Sale

So long to an ace.

Chris Sale pitches for the Portland Sea Dogs

Saying goodbye is hard. So let’s raise a glass, cue up The Body Of An American, and do it together. It’s the Over The Monster Irish Wake in celebration of Chris Sale.

Chris Sale, The Fragile Competitor

Chris Sale On Injured List Photo by John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Chris Sale, you big windmill. It’s kind of hard to say goodbye. Though in some ways, I feel like this goodbye already happened for me. Somewhere I went through this grief process already, not having seen much of you these past few years and knowing that you weren’t really ever going to come back to us.

Injuries kept you off the field quite a bit. Your elbow issues, typical for a pitcher. You can’t help that your pinkie took the brunt of a line drive and broke. Tommy John surgery, understandable; it happens to some of the best. And the 2020 season you missed…well, that season was a write-off in so many ways anyway, right? Where was the harm, really? The off-field injuries were harder to take, though…the rib you fractured during the lockout. Sure, sure, a guy’s got to work out, I guess. The bike accident that broke your wrist. You really did go riding your bike on a hill, huh, while you were already nursing one broken bone in your hand? Okay.

So after the other shoe dropped, and then the third shoe, and then the shoe that’s been lost under the bed…I kept waiting for more damn shoes! There was seemingly always going to be another shoe, that’s just been your way during this contract extension. You started only 56 times for us since signing your new contract in 2019. Call it Murphy’s Law or a voodoo doll or whatever you want, but that’s no way to continue on in a relationship. The trust was gone. I thought it was insane of Alex Cora to declare you the 2024 Opening Day starter— way back in September, no less—and we can all chuckle about that now. (I mean, after we get one more good starter, we probably will.)

I appreciate what you did for us. My favorite moment is forcing Manny Machado, that bastard, to his knee as you struck him out and simultaneously clinched the 2018 World Series out of the bullpen. But there were many other strikeouts, of course. And I appreciate your competitor’s heart.

I want good things for you in Atlanta. Take care of yourself now, you hear?

— Maura McGurk

So long and thanks for all the whiffs

I don’t get prospects most of the time. Definitely the most fun way to watch a team come together. But for every Nomar, Pedroia, and Mookie there’s a dozen who are Jason Place, Trey Ball, Craig Hansen etc. So when Dave Dombrowski traded for Chris Sale I was slightly disappointed because of the prospect hype but trusted in the expert opinion. And it paid off.

Can they win the 2018 World Series without Chris Sale? Maybe. Heck, probably! That team was unreal.

That’s the best place to end the story.

— Mike Carlucci

Chris Sale, Killer

Nevermind the Cy Young Awards, Chris Sale was arguably the best pitcher on an inning-by-inning basis in the American League in 2017 and 2018, but especially in the latter. Sale only pitched 158 innings that year, which ultimately doomed him, but his ERA was 2.11. His ERA+ was 209. His FIP was 1.98. His swag was too real. His talent was too dense. They’ll kill you, Chris Sale, they said, and in this very specific way — depriving him of a Cy he’d never win — they did.

But baseball is about titles and greatness more than rewards, and Sale is, probably even moreso than Mookie Betts, the single best avatar of the 2018 cluster of elite talent in one place at one time in baseball history. We’ve been browbeaten out of feeling good about it, but that team was truly, historically great. They rolled to a title while the Dodgers team they beat was good as hell... and yet, against the rules of math, Boston won every game in a 4-1 series. If our lasting memory is Nathan Eovaldi being both exemplary and gracious in defeat, it’s because we knew we had it the whole time. That is to say, it’s a little colored by hindsight, but it’s true. Eovaldi lost, but he didn’t, ever, not really.

What cannot be colored by hindsight, by definition, is the final out of the series, at which point the result was certain, and if our lasting 2018 memory is Sale ending the season by making cartoonish villain Manny Machado look like an actual cartoon K, why bother being gracious? Why bother overthinking it? Mookie Betts could sputter, Big Nate could only pitch so often, but if the slim reaper was always waiting at the end, what did it matter? For the first time in nearly 20 years, David Ortiz wasn’t walking through that door to save the Sox. But Chris Sale was — and when he did, it meant your ass.

— Bryan Joiner

Chris Sale’s Fleeting Greatness

Who knew that trading a perennial Cy Young candidate (at one time) for a guy who’s had south of 250 career plate appearances would get me positively giddy? If you had told me in 2018, when Chris Sale was on top of the world, that I’d be looking toward the future and saying “finally” when one Christopher Allen Sale was sent down south, I wouldn’t have believed you.

As stacked as 2018’s roster was, I looked forward to Sale pitching the most. He was electrifying on a staff of great pitchers. It was akin to the days of Pedro, when in my youth I’d go to the bathroom during the Red Sox’s offensive innings so that I wouldn’t miss a pitcher doing what he does best. That this wasn’t even his best season (though I think it was) is a testament to how good prime Sale, before the injuries, really was.

A few years earlier, I, a diehard Patriots fan, went through a couple-year span where I played into the “Aaron Rodgers is a baaaad man” hype and ranked him above Tom Brady on the best quarterbacks list before I came to my senses. I did the same with Sale over the likes of Corey Kluber or Justin Verlander, both of whom are going to the Hall of Fame. If Chris Sale was pitching, you had a good chance to win the game. Period. Seeing him temporarily return to form before another badly-timed injury in 2023 was refreshing, but it was a reminder that good things are good while they’re good, but they’re never forever. At least it happened, right?

Thanks for everything, Chris, even if you went bike riding with a recently broken hand while making 27 million dollars on a team with stingy ownership. I’m glad you have another chance at a Series before you hang it up, and Ihope you can pitch upwards of 100 innings for the Braves. And, if not, I hope the Triple-A team in Gwinnett bolts their clubhouse tv’s to the wall.

— Dean Roussel

Sale Night was Must-Watch

214 innings, 308 strikeouts. Chris Sale came out of the gate in 2017 as the surefire ace that the Red Sox needed and quickly made the names Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech an afterthought. For me, it was the first time since Pedro Martinez left after the 2004 season that I made sure I was in front of the television at 7:05 because it was a “Sale Night”. Sale followed that second place Cy Young season upwith a 2.11 ERA and an outrageous 13.5 strikeouts per nine in 2018, finishing fourth in the Cy race. And, although he never really had that “signature outing” in the playoffs for the Red Sox, he did have one of the most bad-ass entrances out of the bullpen that we’ll ever see in the final inning of the 2018 playoffs.

Since that moment, it was one frustration after another for Sale and Red Sox fans alike between arm injuries, freak injuries, and inconsistencies on the mound. While many fans didn’t care what he had to say postgame and simply wanted Sale to “just pitch better”, I appreciated the fact that he was always accountable when he failed. I don’t believe Sale ever gave less than 100% on the mound. His body wasn’t built to hold up as a pitcher long-term; it’s not his fault that he grew up to look like a combination of Gumby and that sculpture that Steve Cohen paid $141 million for.

Alberto Giacometti, Pointing Man (1947), bronze with patina, hand-painted sold for $141.3 million, the most expensive sculpture ever sold at auction. Photo: Courtesy Christie’s.

The Red Sox won the first Chris Sale trade but lost the Chris Sale extension and it was probably the right time to move on.

— Bob Osgood

Chris Sale, A Pitcher I Just Can’t Quit

Chris Sale missing time due to an injury is all but a certainty. Every time he takes the mound, you wait for something to go wrong. For stretches, the wheels might stay on, and the flashes would be there. Amongst all the injuries, all the rehab assignments, and all the frustration, Chris Sale wouldn’t let you forget how dominant he was. Not with his words, but with a pitch here and an outing there. Even today, the mere sight of a Chris Sale slider would be enough to kill a pilgrim or evacuate the bowels of an early Montreal Expo.

Sale could collect his paychecks ride out his contract, and live the retired life in his home state of Florida. I don’t want to put Sale in a box, but he was born a 6’6” lefty who lives to break the spirit of hitters who step into the box and doesn’t seem to be the type who’s going to be okay sitting on the beach, reading a book for the rest of forever. Chris Sale won’t give up on himself, which makes it impossible for me to give up on Chris Sale.

The very first thing I published for Over the Monster was about Chris Sale’s outlook for the 2023 season. What I wrote then remains true today. Chris Sale wants to be out there, and he’ll do everything he can to prove he’s still got it. You don’t attack a locker if you’ve given up. I won’t miss the frustration that comes with Chris Sale, but as long as he’s still pitching, I won’t be able to give up on him, and I’ll miss the fire that he brings.

— Jacob Roy

Sail On, Chris Sale

Since it’s been half a decade since Sale was good and healthy for a sustained period, I think we’ve forgotten just how immaculate his pitching was in his first two years in Boston (and before that in Chicago). In 2017, he led all of baseball in innings pitched (214 1/3), strikeouts (308), FIP (2.45) and strikeouts per nine innings (12.9) while finishing second in AL Cy Young voting. Then, in 2018, although he missed some time, he was exceptional across 158 innings, posting a 2.11 ERA and 1.98 FIP while helping to lead the Sox to a World Series title.

During those two seasons, when Sale was pitching, it was appointment viewing. As other OTM writers have already said, it was the closest thing the Red Sox have had to the Pedro Martinez experience of the late ‘90s and early ‘00s. When Sale pitched, you didn’t just hope to win, you expected to do so. Sure, he never lived up to that performance and the extension he signed looks bad in retrospect, but I will hold onto those two years more than the struggles of the last few.

However, what I will miss most about Sale is what became a hallowed tradition around the Neuffer household: sending a link to the music video for “Sail” by AWOLNATION (get it? I know, I am super clever) to my friend Pete, notably not a Red Sox fan, when Sale pitched, leading him to politely chuckle the first couple times I did so to wish me ill and question our friendship by the end. Thank you, Chris, for allowing me to annoy my friend for so long. Who can say if that or the 2018 title is more meaningful?

— Phil Neuffer