By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Chris Sale put a lot on the line Tuesday afternoon when he walked up to Alex Cora and informed the manager that he was ready to pitch.
Sale, as he tends to do, backed it up.
The Red Sox’ ace has had a unique past few months, allowing his Cy Young campaign to evaporate in favor of DL stints and rehab starts. It was an odd string of events, one that left many questioning what Sale might have left in the tank for the postseason.
On Tuesday night, in Yankee Stadium, in a clinching situation, Sale showed that he’s still a boss.
The left-hander was thrown onto the mound in the eighth inning, with the Sox leading 4-1. Considering the eighth inning has been a major issue for Red Sox relievers all year long, it was an important spot for Sale to protect the lead and get the ball to closer Craig Kimbrel in the ninth.
Sale entered to face Gleyber Torres, who made solid contact but flew out to deep right-center field for the first out.
Sale then faced pinch hitter Andrew McCutchen and induced a groundout to third base.
To cap off the outing, Sale completely froze leadoff man Aaron Hicks, who stared at an 0-2 slider as it broke down and in for strike three.
Thirteen pitches, eight strikes, three outs. No problem.
As for his demeanor in this high-intensity situation, Sale nonchalantly explained what was running through his mind when the call came for him to start warming up.
“Just grab the ball and start chucking it,” he said flatly.
As for once he finally took the mound?
“Get outs. It’s the same game,” he said. “Doesn’t matter where you are. Strike one, strike two, and strike three. Get three outs and then let the boys hit.”
Though Kimbrel had himself a roller coaster of a ninth inning, the Red Sox were able to hang on for the 4-3 win to clinch the series and move on to the ALCS. Though he only pitched an inning, Sale was a big reason why.
“This is what I’ve wanted my entire life,” Sale said in the champagne-soaked clubhouse. “When we sign up for this gig, when you become a baseball player and you go to spring training, this is what we play for. We want to play until the very end, we want to hold that trophy, and we want to get a really cool ring sometime next year.
“So this is what we all work for. Everything we do is for these moments right here.”
Sale, though, wasn’t quite sure that he’d get the moment. Though he was in the bullpen, he didn’t know if Cora would actually call his name.
“It was the first thing I said to AC when I came into the clubhouse today. I said I wanted the ball at some point,” Sale explained. “I don’t know, I told him and I walked away, and he started laughing. I don’t know if that was a good or bad thing, but it worked out.”
Cora, who said before the game that it would require a special circumstance for Sale to pitch, said that even he wasn’t sure that he’d give the ball to Sale until the seventh inning.
“He’s been talking about it for three days already,” Cora said. “In the seventh, we got together, Dana [LeVangie], Ron [Roenicke] and myself, we were ready to talk to the training staff if it was OK to come in. He was in the bullpen, but it was kind of like his day [to get in work]. Everybody was on board. I even shouted to the dugout, ‘Hey, we’re all in. He’s coming in.’ He did an outstanding job. Passed the baton to Craig. And we closed the deal.”
When sale arrived in Boston, he made it clear — like many before him — that his goal was to win a World Series. He put forth a tremendous 2017 season but faltered in the playoffs, where he went 0-2 with an 8.38 ERA.
That clearly left a bitter taste in his mouth, and if his 2018 postseason performance thus far is any indication, he’s channeled it for good. In two appearances vs. the Yankees, Sale allowed two runs over 6.2 innings, recording nine strikeouts along the way.
“Well, they don’t make ’em any better, as far as a pitcher but also a person. His determination, as a teammate, he’ll give you every ounce that he possibly has,” said Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski. “He’s done so much for us, and we look for him to do even more things for us, too.”