TORONTO -- Go ahead and debate who should have pitched the ninth inning for the Boston Red Sox on Thursday. And by all means, feel free to analyze why the Sox have scored so few runs in games started by their ace pitcher.
Just don't take your hot takes to Chris Sale.
If there’s one thing we’ve learned about Sale through his first four starts for the Red Sox, it’s this: He cares only about winning games and pitching well, in that order. As long as those things happen, everything else is background noise -- and Sale seems to possess the best set of earbuds ever.
So, after dominating the pitiful Toronto Blue Jays on Thursday afternoon for eight innings and 102 pitches, 80 of which were strikes -- such relentless precision that it is almost unheard of -- Sale made it clear to Boston pitching coach Carl Willis that he had more than enough left to begin the ninth. But when the Red Sox finally broke a scoreless stalemate on a two-out RBI single by Xander Bogaerts that preceded a 1 minute, 55 second replay review, manager John Farrell chose to go to closer Craig Kimbrel, who recently racked up three saves in as many days by striking out seven of nine batters.
Kimbrel gave up a game-tying home run to Kendrys Morales on his second pitch. And even though the Red Sox rallied for a 4-1 victory on Mookie Betts' three-run double in the 10th inning, the armchair managers were readying their pitchforks to protest Farrell’s decision to turn away from a pitcher who allowed four hits, struck out 13 and was so powerful he might as well have taken on the Canadian army instead of the watered-down Jays offense.
Sale’s take: Who cares? The Sox won.
“I’m going to want the ball in that situation 10 times out of nine,” Sale said. “Do I want to [keep pitching]? Yeah.
"But at the end of the day, he’s the manager and he makes the calls. Check the book: Craig’s been pretty damn good back there. We ended up winning.”
Sale wasn’t credited with the win, but he couldn’t care less about that either. All that matters is that his first four starts for the Red Sox have been as dominant as any pitcher in his first season with the club since Pedro Martinez in 1998. Don’t take our word for it. Check the numbers:
Pedro’s first four starts: 32 IP, 16 H, 3 R, 7 BB, 44 K, 0.84 ERA.
Sale’s first four starts: 29⅔ IP, 15 H, 3 R, 6 BB, 42 K, 0.91 ERA.
Hall of Fame reliever Dennis Eckersley said after Sale’s start last Saturday that the 28-year-old lefty’s performance has been “pretty darn close” to Pedro. After Thursday’s game, Martinez tweeted, “If I’m going to pay money to go see a pitcher right now it would be Chris Sale!”
If I am going to pay money to go see a pitcher right now it would be Chris Sale! The guys brings integrity to the game!
— Pedro Martinez (@45PedroMartinez) April 20, 2017
They don’t charge admission in the bullpen, but Kimbrel was “glad we had a little TV down there” to get a better view of Sale’s crackling fastball, sweeping slider and bat-slowing changeup.
“It’s definitely special,” Red Sox first baseman Mitch Moreland said. “He owns the game. Every pitch he throws, there’s conviction behind it. It’s fun to watch and fun to play behind because he’s in complete control from the first pitch.”
Until Betts’ big hit, the Sox had scored only four runs with Sale on the mound, the only reason his record stands at 1-1 instead of 4-0. To Sale, all that matters is that the team is 3-1 in his starts. Of the 30 innings in which he has pitched, the Sox have had a lead at the end of only six of them, according to ESPN Stats & Information, leaving the rail-thin Sale to pitch with a margin of error even slimmer than he is.
Mention that to Sale, though, and he swats it away like a mosquito.
“It doesn’t matter what the score of the game is,” Sale said. “You pitch to your strengths and try to keep it where it’s at no matter what. If you’ve got a 10-run lead, it’s [not] like I’m going to go out there and say, ‘Oh, I can give up four runs now.’ You just keep pitching your game, keep playing your game and relying on the guys behind me.”
Next up, Sale will face the New York Yankees on Wednesday night at Fenway Park (7 p.m. ET, ESPN/WatchESPN). It will be his first exposure to the all-consuming Red Sox-Yankees rivalry.
Just don’t expect Sale to get consumed by the hype. Like everything else, it’s only background noise.