Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora indicated Tuesday it was unlikely Chris Sale would pitch out of the bullpen in Game 4 of the American League Division Series against the New York Yankees.
“It has to be something that’s too perfect,” Cora told reporters in the Bronx before the game, adding that the chances of Sale appearing Tuesday night were “very slim.”
Well, the perfect scenario arose. And sure enough, Cora turned to his ace in the eighth inning.
Sale retired the side in order, paving the way for closer Craig Kimbrel, who overcame an extremely shaky ninth inning to shut the door on Boston’s 4-3, series-clinching win.
“It was fun,” Sale said, per WEEI.com. “I enjoyed it. Obviously, I threw out of the bullpen last year, but that was my home to start my career. That was fun to get back in there and get a shot of adrenaline. It’s what you want.”
Cora explained after Game 4 that Sale, who started last Friday night’s series opener in Boston and would have started Game 5 on Thursday had the Yankees won Tuesday, brought up the bullpen scenario Sunday. Sale then skipped his bullpen session Monday.
Nothing was etched in stone at that point, but the Red Sox ultimately decided to call upon the left-hander Tuesday with the idea being Sale typically throws an aggressive bullpen of roughly 20 pitches between starts, anyway, and therefore pitching the eighth inning wouldn’t present any issues moving forward.
That said, there also was an element of going for the throat. And Cora, who consulted with pitching coach Dana LeVangie, bench coach Ron Roenicke and the Red Sox’s training staff before calling upon Sale, delivered a strong message to his team with Boston leading 4-1 and six outs away from an AL Championship Series date with the Houston Astros.
“Everybody was on board,” Cora said. “I even shouted to the dugout, ‘Hey, we’re all in. He’s coming in.’ ”
The decision didn’t guarantee anything. Starters have flopped in relief before, and there still was a chance Kimbrel would crumble in the ninth inning. But Sale was up to the task: Gleyber Torres flied out to right-center field, Andrew McCutchen grounded out to third base and Aaron Hicks struck out.
“In a game like this, you have to bring out your big dogs and he’s one of them,” Red Sox right fielder Mookie Betts said, per The Athletic.
The Red Sox went “all in,” and the gamble paid off — just like so many other Boston bets this season.
Thumbnail photo via Wendell Cruz/USA TODAY Sports Images
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