So much for a meeting of the aces. Boston southpaw Chris Sale went toe-to-toe with Astros lefty Justin Verlander during Game 1 of the ALCS on Saturday, but neither pitcher came away looking anything like the perennial Cy Young contenders they are.
It was far worse for Sale, who toiled through four long innings of two-run, five-strikeout, 86-pitch ball in the Championship Series opener. He opened the game with an eight-pitch walk to George Springer, then set the rest of the Astros’ lineup down on nine pitches. In the second inning, nearly every batter drew a full count against the left-hander. Sale issued a seven-pitch walk to Carlos Correa, then worked a 2-2 count against Martin Maldonado before his fifth pitch, a 96-MPH fastball, grazed Maldonado’s hand and awarded him a free base.
With a third walk to Josh Reddick, the Astros had the bases loaded against Sale with two outs and All-Star slugger George Springer up to bat. Springer struck a line drive to left field — the first and only hit Sale would allow all night — and plated a pair of runs to get the Astros on the board. While no sign of injury or excessive fatigue appeared to impede Sale’s mechanics, the 29-year-old’s velocity and command continued to erode over the next two innings. He retired the side on 19 pitches in the third (and another walk, his fourth of the game) and finished off his final inning with another 17, bringing his total just four shy of 90 as he turned over the ball to right-hander Joe Kelly in the fifth.
By the end of Sale’s outing, he’d allowed two runs on one hit, four walks, and five strikeouts. Even more disconcerting: In four innings, just 50 of his 86 pitches landed for strikes. Needless to say, this isn’t the 2.11-ERA, 6.5-fWAR hurler that helped propel Boston to a franchise-best 108-win season in 2018. While Sale didn’t enter Game 1 with the strongest postseason resume, this was an uncharacteristically difficult outing for the AL East ace — and one that cast some serious doubt about the Red Sox’ ability to power through the rest of this series, too.