LOS ANGELES — As the Red Sox fell further and further behind the Dodgers Saturday, as the 2-0 World Series lead that had brought them across country on such a high they barely needed the plane to get here was suddenly barreling toward a 2-2 tie, as Yasiel Puig’s titanic home run left starter Eduardo Rodriguez slamming his glove to the ground (before picking it up on his way out of the game), Chris Sale had had enough.
Enough bad at-bats.
Enough mistake pitches.
Enough errant throws.
So as the Sox convened in their dugout after the Dodgers finally broke through in a taut, tense Game 4 with a four-run sixth inning, Sale, the team’s ace pitcher, let his teammates know it.
Stalking the dugout with enough intensity to remind you this is the guy who once shredded a set of White Sox throwback uniforms so his team wouldn’t have to wear them, Sale was emptying his lungs to those around him, yelling about picking it up, doing anything he could to wake up a the team that had lost in 18 innings the night before, was losing by four runs late in this game, and was in serious danger of losing its grip on a World Series title that felt oh-so-close only days earlier. He couldn’t do anything then to help — declared off limits by manager Alex Cora during Friday night’s 7-hour-and-20-minute marathon (no matter how many times he offered to warm up), on the shelf Saturday as well so he could be ready for another potential start in this series.
But Chris Sale’s nature is to be involved. And so he got himself involved.
“He’s an intimidating dude and he was pissed. We let him have his moment and thank goodness our players responded. He’s got a future in managing,” said assistant hitting coach Andy Barkett. “I’ve never seen him in the dugout like that. That’s a first this year that I’ve been here. It was really cool to see a veteran leader call us all out, basically, say, ‘It’s time. Let’s go.’ It was a cool moment.”
The outburst was caught on camera and later aired in the Fox broadcast, though manager Alex Cora played it a bit coy. “Chris yelling in the dugout? My English is very limited so I didn’t understand what he was saying.
“But we had no energy.”
In other words — yes, it happened. Just like you saw on TV, and just like you think it would unfold with a competitor of Sale’s ilk.
“You don’t see that in professional baseball that often. You’ve got, ‘Let’s go. Here we go,’ that type of stuff,” Barkett said. “But a guy really just controlling the dugout like that, you don’t see that very often. [David Ortiz is] a type of voice, just like Chris, veteran leader, that can call us all out so to speak. He’s got the dirt under his cleats to do such a thing. When he did it tonight, it was really cool. Big moment.”
So as the Red Sox once did to Ortiz back in 2013, when a mid-game dugout pep talk rallied them to an eventual World Series win over the Cardinals, they responded to Sale. A three-run homer by pinch-hitter Mitch Moreland in the seventh to get back in the game. A solo shot by Steve Pearce in the eighth to tie it at 4. A go-ahead double by pinch-hitter Rafael Devers to take the lead in the ninth, and a three-run double by Pearce with another RBI from Xander Bogaerts staking them to a 9-4 lead in the top of that inning. A shaky bottom of the ninth from closer Craig Kimbrel would make it 9-6 in the end, but that doesn’t change the reality of where the Red Sox are now: One win away from a World Series crown.
And though Sale won’t be on the mound to start the potential clincher Sunday at Dodger Stadium — Cora dropped a stunner as he was walking out of his postgame press conference and said David Price would be out there instead, with Sale on tap for a potential Game 6 — give the lanky lefthander an assist for what could turn out to be the penultimate win. Sale did all he could do change the direction of Saturday’s game, even though we know there is only so much that can be accomplished from the dugout. As much as the video showed players walking blithely by as he spoke, the timing lined up from his rant to those first four Red Sox runs. Who knows if there was any cause and effect, though it sure did feel as if the Red Sox rediscovered their mojo in the moments after his mini-tirade.
It hasn’t been an easy for Sale to do more on the field this postseason, to get out there and do damage in the manner he would much prefer. But he was willing. He asked his way into Friday’s game. Repeatedly. He considered picking up a glove and playing the infield (which he might have had to do if Eduardo Nunez had actually been too injured to continue playing in that 18-inning marathon). But control of his own destiny is a little out of reach right now. Think of the bizarre back and forth when he pretended an infected belly button ring was the reason for his hospital stay and missed start in the ALCS. Think of the ensuing Game 1 start here in the Series where he allowed three runs on five hits over four-plus innings. Remember the fragility that turned him in to a ghost in the second half of the regular season, and the shoulder that will likely need some serious offseason attention.
Talking to the media about that possibility of pitching Game 5, Sale said, “Well, we’ve got to get there first. And we’re focused on what we’ve got to do tonight. We’ll worry about that when we get there tomorrow.”
Tomorrow is today. And though the ball won’t be in his hands, he did more than his part Saturday.
“We talked about it before the game, this is a good spot for David in a National League park to start the game,” Cora said. “Obviously he’s been throwing the ball well, and it’s not that we’re playing with a lead, but we feel for the team, where we’re at pitching-wise, it’s good to go with David. We talked about it the whole day and we decided. I just talked to Chris and David and that’s what we’re going to do. Chris is OK. He’ll be back there and if necessary in Game 6 he’ll be the starter.”
On Saturday, he was happy to give the assist.