Chris Sale Produces Dominant Debut Red Sox Needed to See

Danny KnoblerMLB Lead WriterApril 5, 2017

BOSTON, MA - APRIL 5: Chris Sale #41 of the Boston Red Sox reacts during the seventh inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Fenway Park on April 5, 2017 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

The idea, when the Boston Red Sox made their big trade for Chris Sale, was that he would pitch just like this on cool nights at Fenway Park.      

Cool nights in October.

If Sale and the Red Sox don't get there or if they get there and he's nothing like this, it will hardly matter that he dominated the Pittsburgh Pirates on a cool Wednesday night in April.

It wouldn't matter then. But it does matter now because part of pitching in Boston is convincing the locals you're the guy they thought they were getting. Chris Sale's seven innings Wednesday provided a convincing argument and set up the Red Sox for a 3-0 win on Sandy Leon's 12th-inning home run off Antonio Bastardo.

Seven shutout innings with just three hits, one of which didn't leave the infield. Seven innings with one walk and seven strikeouts and without a Pirates runner advancing even as far as second base.

Seven innings that never gave any skeptical fans a single moment to think, "Oh no, not again." There was no reason to even mention David Price, unless it was to contrast Sale's first home game at Fenway to the five-inning, five-run effort the Sox got from the standout left-hander they acquired a year before.

Price eventually did have games for the Red Sox like the one Sale had Wednesday, but they came in July and August. The narrative was already well-established by then, and despite 17 wins, 230 innings and a 3.99 ERA, his first season in Boston was always going to be seen as something of a disappointment.

A year later, Price, who is nursing a left elbow that bothered him in spring training, was playing catch off a bullpen mound Wednesday afternoon as he tries to work his way back. And Sale, acquired last December from the Chicago White Sox in trade that cost the Red Sox big-time prospects, was getting ready to start on a narrative of his own.      

Wednesday's game was just the first short chapter for a 28-year-old left-hander the Red Sox have under control (with contract options) through 2019. It followed a prologue of a spring in which Red Sox fans cheered Sale often and an Opening Day where he got the longest ovation during pregame introductions.

Good or bad, this game was going to attract notice, as Sale had to know. Just look at how he started it, courtesy of a tweet from Daren Willman of MLB.com:

OK, so it's true Sale threw fastballs as fast as 99.26 mph in his first start for the White Sox last April, according to Brooks Baseball. His first pitch that night in Oakland: 97.4 mph, according to MLB.com’s GameDay.

So yeah, the Chris Sale the Red Sox saw Wednesday wasn't really any different from the player the White Sox saw regularly over the last seven seasons. But that's kind of the point.

The Red Sox didn't trade for Sale on projection. He was already one of the best pitchers in the American League, good enough and consistent enough he has finished in the top six in Cy Young voting five straight years.

Yes, but can he do it in Boston? Maybe you weren't asking that question audibly, but you know some were at least inside. There's a feeling at Fenway that not everyone is cut out for playing there, and it's not an entirely wrong one.

A bad start Wednesday would have people asking questions Sale wouldn't want to answer. A few mediocre starts early in the year would have them talking about him the way they talked about Price last April and May, everybody trying to figure out what was wrong.

There was nothing wrong with Chris Sale on this cool Fenway night, nothing wrong with a Red Sox team that has a long way to go to October but has opened the season with back-to-back wins. The fans are on its side, and they're on Sale's too, cheering him loudly as he walked off the mound in the seventh inning.

They weren't October cheers, and it wasn't an October chill. But this was where Sale's Boston journey had to begin, and it began with brilliance.

 

Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

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