WASHINGTON — Chris Sale was throwing 99 and 100 miles per hour Tuesday night, a bit amped up in his start for the American League All-Star team. If this was a true competition between Sale and National League starter Max Scherzer, Sale probably won the inning since he surrendered a first-pitch single to leadoff hitter Javier Baez and then retired the next three batters with a pair of fly ball outs and a strikeout of Paul Goldschmidt.
Sale was humming for his one inning, while Scherzer pitched two innings in his home ballpark and gave up a run with four strikeouts. Sale pitched only one inning because AL manager A.J. Hinch was under strict orders from Red Sox manager Alex Cora. The All-Star appearance was like a warm-up inning for Sale, who will start the second half of his Red Sox season on Friday against the Detroit Tigers. Sale will have a couple days to rest before the start. The hope is that Sale will be super rested for the rest of the season. The Red Sox have tried to prepare for a fresher Sale in the second half of 2018 since he seemed to fade down the stretch in 2017.
The Red Sox delayed his first start in spring training, curtailed his side sessions, and restricted his pitch counts (90-something) in his first few starts for 2018. They have given him extra days’ rest when available. They have built in all the safeguards so Sale will be effective for the pennant — and playoff — run.
After all, that has not always been the case.
And when Sale was throwing those 100-m.p.h, pitches on Tuesday night and even topping out at 100.7 m.p.h. (the fastest pitch he has thrown since 2010, when he was a reliever with the White Sox), Cora was probably watching on TV and yelling, “Stop throwing so hard!” But like Sale has said over and over, the adrenaline takes over at All-Star events and he can’t help but throw hard, especially when he knows he’s only going one inning.
And especially when he’s facing Baez, Nolan Arenado, Goldschmidt, and Freddie Freeman. How can you not go full throttle?
Cora was probably hoping Sale wouldn’t even pitch, but he was the logical choice since he has been the AL’s best and hottest pitcher. Luis Severino had slowed down a tad after his hot start. Ditto on Corey Kluber and the Houston staff of Gerrit Cole and Charlie Morton — not including Justin Verlander, who pitched Sunday.
Sale, who came out of Tuesday’s game healthy and happy, became the third pitcher to start three consecutive All-Star games. Sale loves that distinction. He has made seven All-Star game appearances, but now needs to strive for other accolades such as multiple Cy Young awards, which have eluded him, mostly because of the second-half dips he has suffered through the years.
Sale had some fun before, during, and after the game. He enjoyed the All-Star festivities, including the walk on the red carpet that his son is beginning to think is an annual event. Sale gave so much credit to his trainers and the clubhouse workers at National Park for making the experience so good. He said he had most of his family on hand including his wife, son, parents, and in-laws.
He also was amused by questions from a Chinese reporter who claimed Sale was a big hit in China. He asked him why he chews so much gum and Sale indicated he doesn’t chew gum at all but does moisten his fingers with saliva. He also quizzed Sale about why he doesn’t have a full-length beard and only a trimmed one. Sale answered that the trimmed version is all his wife will allow.
“This is awesome,” Sale said. “I really enjoy these events. Everyone sees the home run derby but nobody sees the work done by the city, the stadium, the clubhouse guys, trainers, and all the players.”
Sale said there were no nerves and “the only thing I was thinking about was getting after it and not messing up. It felt really good out there. One inning was a nice little tuneup. It was all good.”
Sale took time to thank a lot of people whom he said made the success of the first half possible.
“I think it’s a combination of a lot of things,” Sale said. “I have a lot of good people around me, an unbelievable training staff and two guys in the training room that do a great job. Plus I have a fan base that’s fantastic, that packs the ballpark every time. You guys have been to Fenway . . . it’s the best place to play in baseball. The adrenaline and having a lot of support really allows for me to have a great support staff.”
A lot of the second-half success of this team will depend on Sale, particularly now with injuries to the pitching staff. Eduardo Rodriguez has a sprained ankle, and Steven Wright an inflamed knee. Drew Pomeranz isn’t ready to return from the DL.
“This is what we signed up for,” Sale said. “We have to keep our foot on the gas pedal and hopefully keep winning games.”
And Sale needs to be as good in September as he was in April, May, and June.
If he is, this 2018 bunch may indeed be the greatest Red Sox team ever.