Red Sox

‘His stuff was really good’: Alex Cora liked Chris Sale’s Game 5 performance, sticks by leaving him in for the 6th inning

Sale allowed just one run in the first five innings of Game 5 before the Astros scored three runs on him in the sixth.

Chris Sale pitched 5 1/3 innings in Game 5 before turning the ball over to Alex Cora.

Entering his start in Game 5 of the ALCS, Chris Sale arguably had the worst three-game stretch of his career.

Boston’s lefty ace struggled to make it out of the third inning in two of his previous three starts, and in the other, he only pitched one inning.

So, it was anyone’s guess what they’d get out of Sale. Red Sox manager Alex Cora just wanted one thing out of Sale.

“Just give us a chance to win,” Cora said. “The game was going to dictate how we managed it and the way he was throwing the ball, we felt very comfortable with him.”

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They ended up getting a strong five innings from Sale to start. In the first five innings, Sale allowed just one run on two hits, two walks, and seven strikeouts.

The only hits Sale gave up in that stretch were to Yordan Alvarez. The first was on the opening pitch of the second inning, in which the lefty Alvarez hit Sale’s 93 mph fastball on the edge of the plate to left and onto the Green Monster to make it 1-0 Houston.

Alvarez’s second hit came in the fourth. With one out, Sale walked Alex Bregman in the at-bat prior. Alvarez again took a Sale fastball the opposite way, drilling it off the Monster for a long single to put runners at the corners.

Carlos Correa and Kyle Tucker each had a shot to add to the Astros’ lead. Sale shut the door on that. He struck out Correa swinging by throwing a high 96 mph fastball. Sale did the same thing to strike out Tucker, but just threw it faster, throwing a fastball that registered at 98.5 mph — Sale’s fastest pitch since 2018.

Sale was fired up, yelling into his glove as he left the mound. While he was clearly emotional after the strikeout, Sale downplayed the moment after the game.

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“Runner in scoring position. One out. Need two punchouts, got them. I don’t know, showed a little emotion,” Sale said. “That was it.”

Sale retired the side in order in the fifth, going through the Astros’ lineup two full times at that point. While a lot of managers have taken out their starting pitchers when they finish their second trip through the order, Cora decided to leave Sale in for the sixth.

That decision didn’t work out. Sale walked Jose Altuve to begin the inning, missing the zone on a fastball away for ball four.

Altuve took off for second on the first pitch to Michael Brantley, who hit softly. The throw was made to Kyle Schwarber at first, but as Altuve rounded second to take third, Schwarber prepared to make a throw across the diamond and didn’t cleanly field the ball.

Sale was able to get Bregman out on a fielder’s choice, but runners were at second and third with one out and Alvarez was up again. And once again, Alvarez delivered by hitting Sale’s fastball. This time for a double to put Houston up 3-0.

Sale wasn’t sure what Alvarez did to solve him, saying “you’ve got to ask him” on what Alvarez did to be the only Astro to record a hit against Sale. But he attributed his struggles that inning back to the leadoff walk.

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“I felt as good as I did in any other inning, honestly,” Sale said. “I tried to stick a fastball away and I couldn’t get it down, I couldn’t get it there. We’ve known this since I was 12 years old. Leadoff walks are going to kill you. That ended up being the straw that broke the back right there. And that’s on me.”

Despite the result of the inning, Cora stood by his decision to have Sale come back out for the inning.

“Sometimes we get caught up too much on the third time through the order,” Cora said. “He was throwing the ball great. His stuff was really good. He was throwing 97 mph with a good slider. I understand how people think, but there were two lefties coming up too in that pocket — Brantley, who he did an amazing job against early on, and Alvarez.

“Still [Alvarez] is who he is but Chris Sale is a lefty and he’s made a living getting lefties out. You’ve got to tip your cap to the kid, tip your cap to the guy, he didn’t try to do too much with that first pitch with men at second and third and he goes the other way. I was getting ready for the guy after Alvarez. We win there and they put the ball in play, we didn’t make plays, and that happened.”

Sale’s day ended after the Alvarez double. Alvarez scored later in the inning when Ryan Brasier allowed a double to Yuli Gurriel. Sale’s final line was four runs (two earned) on three hits, two walks, and seven strikeouts over 5 1/3 innings pitched.

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The lefty was blunt in the assessment of his performance.

“I was good for five and I sucked for one,” Sale said.

Even though he acknowledged he wasn’t good enough to particularly get the Red Sox the win in Game 5, Sale shared how much he put into Wednesday’s start.

“I had to leave everything out there,” Sale said. “I told myself coming into this game that I had a job to do. Obviously, I didn’t get it done but I left my nuts out there on that mound tonight, that’s for damn sure.”

Now, the Red Sox trail the series 3-2 as the ALCS moves to Houston for Game 6 and potentially Game 7. The Red Sox got what they wanted in the first trip to Houston, splitting the first two games. They went up 2-1 in the series after a dominating Game 3 win and held a lead for much of Game 4.

“We just kind of pissed two games away, that’s tough any way you cut it,” Sale said. “It doesn’t matter, you’ve got to take at least one of those. Not in a good spot going back to Houston – there’s no denying that. This team’s won back-to-back in the playoffs before, and I think we can do it again.”

As dejecting as the last two losses might be, Sale still has confidence his team can win the series.

“Our back’s up against the wall and that’s where we’ve kind of been for a while with our whole year and leading up into the playoffs who we had to play, where he had to play,” Sale said. “All of that stuff, so we’re going to find out.”

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