Every time Pedro Martinez took the mound at Fenway Park for the Boston Red Sox, there was a distinct and undeniable buzz.
It’s unlikely, given baseball’s current standing in our sports-viewing habits and given Martinez’s once-in-a-lifetime appeal, any pitcher will ever bring a similar buzz to each and every start.
But darn it, Chris Sale sure looks like he’s going to try.
The new Red Sox ace dazzled yet again Thursday night (he might beg to differ) in his first Boston start vs. the New York Yankees, taking a tough-luck loss. Sale allowed just three runs (two earned) over eight-plus innings and struck out 10 while yet again falling victim to literally nonexistent run support.
(At this rate, would anyone blame Sale — who’s received the second-lowest run support in the American League through the season’s first month — if he just started cutting up his teammates bats?)
Through just five starts, though, Sale has become appointment viewing. He checks off all the Pedro-like criteria. There’s a level of excitement when you realize it’s a “Sale day.” If you’re at the game, bathroom and/or beer breaks are reserved for when the Red Sox are hitting. It’s almost a letdown when he allows the opposition to put the ball in play, let alone get a hit. And you can wonder after an inning or two whether a no-hitter or 20-strikeout game are on the way and not be considered too crazy.
But Sale’s numbers also are eerily similar to Martinez’s, at least through their first five starts with Boston.
First, a couple of important distinctions: Sale is 28 years old, whereas Martinez was 26 when he started the 1998 season, his first with the Red Sox. Also, if you want to say Sale’s start isn’t as impressive as Pedro’s (numbers be damned), we’d have a hard time arguing given Martinez’s run came at the height of the Steroid Era.
That being said, look at these numbers.
Sale through first five starts with Red Sox
37.2 innings pitched (139 batters faced)
five earned runs
52 strikeouts, six walks (12.4 K/9 IP)
1.19 ERA (1.11 FIP)
.177 batting average against
69 percent strikes (17 percent swinging strikes)
1.581 win probability added
Martinez through first five starts with Red Sox
37.1 innings pitched (142 batters faced)
seven earned runs
51 strikeouts, 10 walks (12.3 K/9 IP)
1.69 ERA (1.61 FIP)
.172 batting average against
65 percent strikes (17 percent swinging strikes)
1.192 win probability added
**Worth noting: The Red Sox scored eight runs in Martinez’s fifth start of the 1998 season. They’ve scored 10 runs through all of Sale’s five starts combined.
From a numbers standpoint, Sale’s might actually be better than Martinez’s, but like we said, it’s hard to compare the two eras even just 19 years apart, especially considering pitching is more dominant than it has been in quite some time. But still, you get the point.
Sale probably won’t ever reach the height of Martinez’s popularity and reverence, but he ultimately could be the next best thing, especially if he continues to pitch like this. And if he does continue this sort of dominance, the Red Sox will feel quite all right with the trade that brought him to Boston.
Now, if they could only score some runs.
Thumbnail photo via Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports Images