By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — In anticipation of the first postseason start of his career, left-hander Chris Sale said this week, “It’s what I’m here for.”
The playoff debut didn’t go quite like he and the Red Sox had hoped.
Sale made it just two batters into the game before allowing a run. It came in the form of a no-doubt-about it home run off the bat of Alex Bregman, who had never faced Sale in his career.
Next up was MVP front-runner Jose Altuve, who stepped into the batter’s box very clearly looking to do one thing and one thing only: make it back-to-back bombs. Altuve succeeded, turning around a 97 mph 0-2 fastball and sending it over the wall in left-center field.
Though Sale just completed one of the best pitching seasons in Red Sox history, many in Boston had questions about how the 28-year-old would fare in his first playoff action. They got their answer early, and it wasn’t pleasant.
Sale was never able to establish any level of dominance over the Astros, who would eventually win 8-2. He failed to record a 1-2-3 inning, and partially as a result of his climbing pitch count and partially a result of his utter ineffectiveness, he was pulled with two on and nobody out in the bottom of the sixth inning.
After reliever Joe Kelly allowed the two inherited runners to score, Sale’s final line was as ugly as can be: 5 IP, 9 H, 1 BB, 6 SO, 7 ER.
That’s good for a 12.60 ERA.
That’s not what anyone from the Red Sox organization was looking for.
Making matters more frustrating for the visiting team was the fact that Houston’s ace, Justin Verlander, showed some cracks in his armor as well. The Red Sox were able to scrape two runs across the plate, tying the game at 2-2 in the top of the fourth inning. But Sale gave the lead right back to Houston in the bottom of the inning, giving up a two-out, two-run double to Marwin Gonzalez, who barreled a fastball on the outer half of the plate to the opposite field. In doing so, Gonzalez gave that two-run cushion back to the Astros.
Sale allowed another homer to Altuve, this one a solo job in the fifth on a first-pitch fastball, before starting the sixth by giving up a double and a walk, thus ending his day.
Sale started 32 games for Boston this year. He allowed seven earned runs just once. He allowed nine or more hits just once.
This was one of his very worst starts at the year, and it came at the very worst time.
Yes, there were some signs that this might have been coming. True to his career trends, his ERA rose in August and September, and he did allow 24 home runs on the year. Yet there was the chance, given his fiery nature and ultimate competitiveness, that he’d be able to regain that dominant form he displayed through the first four months of the year. It didn’t happen.
Going into the series, people wondered if Sale would be able to pitch in Game 4, if the Red Sox needed him. Manager John Farrell said it was a possibility, and Sale said he’d be willing to pitch until his arm fell off.
After a most disappointing start in Game 1, the Sale-on-short-rest storyline has already gone away. Instead, the focus shifts to whether or not Drew Pomeranz can save the Red Sox’ season in Game 2 on Friday.
“I’m 28 years old,” Sale said earlier this week, “so I’ve been waiting for this about 23 years.”
Now, Sale is hoping he doesn’t have to wait another 12 months — or longer — to make his second postseason start.