Baseball is a team sport. Except sometimes, it’s not. It definitely wasn’t last night, when Chris Sale set a new career-high in strikeouts and received a big, fat, extra-innings loss in return.
Last night, Sale struck out 17 batters to set a new career single-game strikeout record. His previous record was 15, something he’d matched multiple times, but never surpassed. It was an incredible turnaround from his first few starts of the season. It also marked the highest-strikeout game by a starting pitcher since Max Scherzer had a 20-strikeout game in May 2016.
But despite Sale and the bullpen combining for 24 strikeouts over 11 innings, the Red Sox blew a 3-0 lead and lost 5-4.
If it makes you feel any better, Pedro Martinez also once struck out 17 batters in a game that Boston lost. Just kidding, that shouldn’t make you feel better, because it’s absolutely ridiculous.
What’s even more mind-boggling is how often this kind of game happens to Sale. Since the start of 2018, he’s made 36 regular season starts. In 24 of those starts, the Sox offense scored 3 runs or less while he was in the game.
Sale’s numbers and W-L record from this season also mask a mostly-impressive first couple of months. It started out rough, but he turned it around a lot faster than the records would indicate. He has a 1.91 ERA with 59 strikeouts over his last 33 innings. In three starts this year, he’s gone 7 or more innings and allowed two earned runs or less. He’s 0-1 in those starts, and the Red Sox lost two of the three games. In six of his starts this season, Sale has allowed two earned runs or less. In those same six games, the Sox offense have scored a combined 18 runs. Sale is 1-2 in those starts. By comparison, they’ve given Eduardo Rodriguez 29 runs of support over his last two starts. Sale has the 3rd-lowest run support average (3.18) in the American League this season, while ERod has not only the highest run support average (9.69) in the league, but in all of MLB.
Sale’s last two starts alone saw him striking out 14 and 17 batters apiece, but both games went into extras. This time, there was no extra-inning Andrew Benintendi home run to save the Sox. In fact, Benny went 0-for-6 last night and is 0-for-14 in their last three games. But that’s a topic for another time.
It was Brandon Workman, not Sale, who gave up the go-ahead home run. And considering before last night Workman had only give up two hits all season, it was bound to happen eventually, even if his timing couldn’t have been more terrible. It’s frustrating, but I can’t fault him for finally showing us he’s a human man. But you can place a large chunk of blame on Ryan Brasier, Boston’s final arm of the night, who allowed the only two walks of the night and gave up the final run of the game. He’s been inconsistent trending towards terrible this season. The bullpen will need to be addressed, and hopefully sooner rather than when it’s too late.
But it also shouldn’t have taken eleven innings to win this game. The offense was split, half of them homers, the other half, asleep. Michael Chavis, JD Martinez, and Rafael Devers each hit solo shots in the second and third inning. But the lineup went 1-for-6 with runners in scoring position and left 9 players on base. Mitch Moreland, ever the hero, had a pinch-hit, game-tying RBI single in the 8th, after Brandon Workman blew the lead.
It’s like Jacob DeGrom’s 2018 season: he would’ve been 30-0 if the Mets offense had provided him with four or more runs of support in his starts. Now, of course, there are other mitigating factors, but the basic truth remains the same, that DeGrom deserved better from his teammates. And so does Sale.
On a night that should’ve been one of the best of his career, Sale ended up on the losing side of a ridiculous game. And if it didn’t happen often, I’d say it’s an unfair anomaly. But clearly, this has become something of a pattern for the Sox, and it’s things like this that will cost him the Cy Young he so deserves. And since the team isn’t even winning, these starts are a waste of his arm and his talent. Sale arguably did more to win last night’s game than he ever had before, and his teammates could not back him up.
The record books will show that Sale got a no-decision last night. But they won’t tell the whole story: how many times this has happened before, how this game likely was the worst instance to date, how what should have been a night of celebration ended only in frustration and shock. What should be a highlight of his career will look more like a footnote in an uncomfortable chapter. On the bright side, Cora, pulled him from the game before he could strike out twenty, so maybe by the time he reaches that milestone, the Red Sox will finally have learned how to give him the support he deserves. But until that day comes, I will be here, reminding you all that Chris Sale deserves so much more.
Photo: The Ringer