BOSTON — A Cy Young candidate most of the season — a sentiment true every year for the past half-decade or so — Chris Sale’s apparent autumn stagnation continued Tuesday night in the Red Sox’s biggest game of the season.
Sale lasted only four innings in Game 1 of the World Series against the Dodgers, allowing three runs, five hits and two walks. He struck out seven in the Red Sox’s 8-4 victory. In four games (three starts) this postseason, Sale has given up seven runs in 14 1⁄3 innings. That 4.40 ERA is 1.50 higher than his career regular-season rate.
For the Red Sox, the ineffectiveness — and brevity — combined with diminished fastball velocity to create an unsettling set of circumstances for their lefthanded ace. Sale, who spent a couple of days during the ALCS in the hospital with what the team called a stomach virus, averaged 93.4 mph on his four-seam fastball entering Tuesday, according to Brooks Baseball, and in that area against the Dodgers. That’s significantly below his season average of 95.6 mph.
It wasn’t all bad for Sale. The first inning was actually promising, Sale striking out two and working around David Freese’s two-out single. But then the trouble started. With two outs in the second, Matt Kemp homered, lifting a 93.5-mph fastball high enough and just far enough to land in the Green Monster seats. Sale threw 51 pitches in the opening two frames.
It didn’t get much better in the third, when three straight Los Angeles singles — Justin Turner, Freese and Manny Machado — produced another run. After Sale finally produced a clean inning in the fourth, he walked the first batter of the fifth, Brian Dozier, before yielding to Matt Barnes and the Boston bullpen. Barnes allowed Dozier to score on Machado’s groundout.
This pieced-together playoffs is an extension of Sale’s unusual second half. From late July through early September, Sale made only one start because of shoulder trouble. He hasn’t been quite himself since.
In September, as the Red Sox brought him along slowly with the playoffs in mind, he tossed 12 innings (four starts) and allowed five runs. His fastball velocity in his final outing of the regular season: 90.2 mph.
Is Sale hurt? He hasn’t said so. Neither has the team. His deadpanned explanation for his recent hospital stint was an infection caused by a belly-button ring.
Asked about his health in a two-part question Monday, Sale didn’t address the issue. Asked again if he has been fully healthy or anything close during the past two months, Sale said simply, “If I’m standing on the mound, I’m 100 percent.”
“There’s no holding back now, I think,” Sale said. “My job’s been the same since the first day I got here. You hand me the ball when you want me to throw it, and take it out of my hand when you want me to stop. That’s what I’m going with.”