FORT MYERS, Fla. — Chris Sale would make a perfect New England Patriot. He doesn’t say much. He Does His Job. He wins. He leads by example. He stays off social media. He encourages his teammates.
Sale would not blend easily in the world of NBA superstardom. There’s no diva in the man. He’s not going to make pledges to the fans and then change his mind. He’s not going to call LeBron James for advice about how to deal with Rafael Devers or Andrew Benintendi. He’s not going to make his contract status a disruptive story.
Sale met with the media on a rainy afternoon after the first workout for Red Sox pitchers and catchers Wednesday. He addressed concerns about his shoulder that limited him to 158 innings last year. He acknowledged that this is the final year of his contract, but pledged not to let it be a distraction. He said Boston is “a special place,’’ and “I’d love to keep playing here,’’ but made no promises.
The 6-foot-6-inch lefthander turns 30 next month and has been a fan favorite since Dave Dombrowski sent four minor leaguers (anybody mention Yoan Moncada lately?) to the White Sox to bring him to Boston in December of 2016.
He went 17-8 with a 2.90 ERA in his first Sox season, then posted a 12-4 mark with a 2.11 ERA in 27 starts in 2018. He pitched in five postseason games, most memorably striking out the side in the bottom of the ninth to clinch the World Series at Dodger Stadium in late October.
He is on a fast track to Cooperstown. In eight big league seasons, Sale is 103-62 with a 2.89 ERA. Among American League starting pitchers of the DH era, Sale’s ERA is second best, trailing only Pedro Martinez. He has the best strikeout-per-nine-innings (10.9) and strikeout-to-walk (5.3) ratios in major league history.
The only questions now are: 1. How long can he keep doing this? And 2. will he re-sign with the Red Sox?
Sale’s workload has been handled delicately during his time in Boston. The Sox felt he flamed out at the end of 2017 after reaching 300 strikeouts. In 2018, he was basically shut down after mid-August with the shoulder issues. He pitched only 15⅓ innings in Boston’s 14 postseason games.
“The biggest thing for me this year is not missing a quarter of the year like I did last year,’’ Sale said. “I want to be able to go wire to wire and try to be better thoroughout the whole year and be ready when October rolls around.
“There’s ways that you can get a system going that will allow me to hopefully stay strong throughout the whole year and be sprinting across the finish line rather than limping through it.
“If you look at it, it’s the least amount I’ve ever pitched in my career. Going into this year, hopefully that helps a little bit, and I can be out there for 30-plus starts and 200-plus innings and be there ready when it’s crunch time.’’
And his impending free agency?
“I have people in place, with my agency, to take care of all that,’’ he said. “I’ve been lucky throughout my career never to have to worry about that. I never had that moment in time where there was anxiety of free agency. I’ve always been under contract and just gone out and played.
“For me, that’s the same thing I’m going to do. I can’t worry about dollars and cents or years or all that other stuff . . . all that’s going to take care of itself.’’
Asked if he would like to stay in Boston, Sale answered, “I would love to. I’ve said that since my first year.
“This is a special place. This is a special group of people. A very special city and an unbelievable fan base. Not to mention the fact that we’ve got a hell of a team and we’re going to have that team for a few years to come.
“It’s a good place for me, it’s a good spot. I’d love to keep playing here. We’ll see how it works out.
“That’s what all this stuff is for. You have agents, contracts, stuff. I’m going to let that play out. If it works, it works; if not, it’s been a blast. I have no hard feelings, no ill will. I’ll just keep doing what I do.
“We’ve got another championship to go for. That’s where my head is at.’’
Sale came to Boston with a reputation for being somewhat combustible. In his final year in Chicago, he made headlines, insulting his general manager and being suspended for taking scissors to White Sox throwback uniforms. We have witnessed absolutely none of that behavior in Boston.
When compared with other Sox aces of our recent lifetime, Sale has been the opposite of Roger Clemens, Martinez, Josh Beckett, and teammate David Price.
Team above self. Substance over style.
No drama. No nonsense.
Just great pitching.
And on a rainy February afternoon in Fort Myers, a few well-chosen words.
Dan Shaughnessy can be reached at email@example.com