Red Sox

There’s no way to hide from Chris Sale’s 1-7 start

“It’s not who I am," Sale said. "It’s not who I’ve ever been."

Chris Sale regroups as the Yankees’ DJ LeMahieu circles the bases after homering in the fifth inning. Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

NEW YORK — It would be an exaggeration even beyond the wide hyperbolic range of a sportswriter to call Chris Sale’s season so far an outright disaster.

A disaster would be if his $145 million left shoulder had started barking in Fort Myers, or his fastball velocity had declined rather than ascended as April turned to May and May now to June.

He’s pitching pretty well, mostly. That is not a disaster. But his won-lost record — now 1-7 after he gave up four runs in six innings in the Red Sox’ 4-1 loss to the first-place Yankees on Friday night — has officially become alarming, and I will not judge you if you choose to use any more colorful adjectives that come to mind.


How frustrating has Sale’s season been? The Red Sox are 3-9 in his starts. He has fewer wins this season than relievers Matt Barnes and Ryan Brasier, and as many as Ryan Weber and Brian Johnson.

And it’s not just a 2019 thing: Sale has won one of his 16 starts since last Aug. 12.

“It’s not who I am. It’s not who I’ve ever been,’’ said Sale when informed of the team’s record in his starts. “I’ve got to find a way to be better.’’

Friday night’s loss was a microcosm of how his season has gone. He got little run support, with Rafael Devers’s second-inning solo homer accounting for the entire Red Sox scoring output. He piled up strikeouts, whiffing 10, the fifth time in six starts he has hit double-digit Ks. And he wasn’t quite good enough when he needed to be.

If there was a microcosm within the microcosm, it came in the third inning, when he struck out the side, but gave up three runs — two scoring on a rocketed Aaron Hicks single after fighting back from an 0-2 count — on four hits. He struck out Gary Sanchez, the batter after Hicks’s hit, on three pitches, but who could find enjoyment in that?


“I have to go out there and pitch better and keep us close in games,’’ said Sale. “I mean, if I don’t go out and have a blow-up third inning, we have ourselves a ballgame.’’

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Sale’s only win this season came May 3 against his former team, when he pitched six shutout innings in a suspense-free 6-1 win. It was his seventh start of the season. He was 0-5 coming in. He hasn’t prevailed in five starts since.

Wins aren’t the ultimate measure of a pitcher, of course. It’s a team sport, loaded with variables, the acknowledgment of that truth reaching the mainstream in 2010 when the Mariners’ Felix Hernandez deservingly won the AL Cy Young Award despite a 13-12 record.

History is full of excellent, accomplished pitchers with misleading won-lost records. Bret Saberhagen seemed to have one every other year in the ’80s. Nolan Ryan went 8-16 for the 1987 Astros despite leading the league in several categories, including ERA and strikeouts.

But Sale’s season is weird even with that knowledge. He should have more than one win just by showing up atop the mound every fifth day. And the Red Sox, now 8½ game behind the Yankees, are at the point when they need him to deliver actual victories rather than the occasional moral one.


In his seven previous seasons as a starting pitcher, Sale has lost seven or more games five times. But that’s over the full 162, the long haul. He was an All-Star in every one of those seven seasons, and the seventh loss never arrived, even playing for some dismal White Sox teams, before June 30 in any of those years.

Some recent specifics:

In 2016, his last with the White Sox, he went 17-10 for a team that went 78-84 and finished fourth the AL Central. His seventh loss occurred Aug. 26, a 3-1 loss to the Mariners in which he pitched a complete-game gem, striking out 14.

In 2017, when he struck out 308 in his first year with the Red Sox, finished second in the AL Cy Young Award voting, and ruled the summer, he went 17-8. His seventh loss came on Sept. 3 at the same venue as this season’s seventh loss, when he allowed three home runs in 4⅓ innings of a 9-2 Yankees win.

Last season, Sale lost four times in 27 starts — or 30 starts if you count the postseason, which you totally should. It feels like fairly long ago right now.

The Red Sox have been anxious to tout their turnaround after their abysmal 2-8 and 11-17 start, to tell us everything will be fine, there’s nothing to see here, and Fenway will be open for business in October. The first item in the team-issued notes packet before Friday’s game pointed out that the Sox were 18-10 in their last 28 games.


That’s true, but it is a very selective truth, and one that purports to tell a story we shouldn’t believe yet.

To the public relations department’s credit, the notes did also acknowledge that the Sox entered with a 7-8 record in their last 15. (I’ll do the math for you: It’s now 7-9 in their last 16.)

“We were 16-11 in May,’’ said manager Alex Cora, “but we didn’t end the month the way we wanted.’’

So now they find themselves just a game over .500 (29-28), having lost three straight, and it’s clear that the residue from the miserable start is still all over everything.

The Red Sox left themselves no wiggle room. They can’t afford to suffer not one but two straight embarrassing losses to a marginal team like the Indians, as they did Tuesday and Wednesday.

They can’t leave their bats back at the hotel like they did against Yankees starter J.A. Happ and the parade of triple-digit fireballers that followed.

They can’t keep doing this. It’s getting late early, as a guy whose picture adorns the walls here used to say.

“We’re something away from where we need to be,’’ said Sale. “We just need to find that something. Whatever it is, where it is, a change of socks, a frozen pizza, I don’t know. We’ve just got to find a way. It’s within reach.’’

They can’t afford to waste starts by Chris Sale, their ace. Because we’re getting to the point where the ace is winning so rarely that it’s getting hard to call him an ace at all.