BOSTON (AP) — Chris Sale waited eight years to make his first postseason start and then another 365 days for a chance to put that memory behind him.
The Red Sox left-hander will start Game 1 of the AL Division Series against the New York Yankees on Friday night, one year after he was bombarded by the championship-bound Houston Astros in his playoff debut.
He’s thought about it. He’s learned from it.
And he wants to make sure he doesn’t make the same mistakes again.
“Last year, obviously, I got my feet wet. Didn’t do too well. But sometimes you learn from the bad more than the good,” Sale said Thursday, a day before the AL East rivals open their best-of-five series.
“It happened. I’m not going to run away from it. I don’t think that’s the right thing to do,” he said. “I’m not going to hide from it. You can Google it now, tomorrow and 100 years, and it’s going to be there. I own it. I accept it. And like I said, I’m going to be better. I’m going to go do everything I can to be better. That’s all I can do.”
A seven-time All-Star who was the ace of the White Sox staff before coming to the Red Sox in 2017, Sale had never pitched for a playoff team before starting the opener of Boston’s series against Houston. He gave up seven runs in five innings; he pitched well in an emergency relief appearance in Game 4 but couldn’t keep the Astros from advancing.
On Friday night, Sale will face Yankees lefty J.A. Happ in the first-ever meeting of the teams in the ALDS. They have not met at all in the postseason since Boston’s epic comeback in the 2004 AL Championship Series before the Red Sox went on to win the World Series and their first title in 86 years.
“This is everything we show up for,” Sale said. “We don’t play the game for anything else. Personal stats, wins in the regular season are obviously what get us here. And winning games and winning the division and having the record and all that. We appreciate it, don’t get me wrong. We worked hard for that. We grinded for that, and we earned it.
“But now is the crunch time,” he said, punctuating his comments by pounding his finger on the table in front of him. “We know what’s ahead of us. And we know what we have to do.”
And what they have to do now is get past their longtime nemesis, a 100-win team that is coming off of a 7-2 victory over the Oakland Athletics in the AL wild-card game. The Red Sox watched that game on TV as a team.
“It was fun. It was very relaxing,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said. “Hopefully we can do it a few more times in October, get together.”
After partying into the night and then riding what manager Aaron Boone called “a slow-moving train” to Boston, the Yankees decided not to work out at Fenway Park on Thursday.
Boone, whose extra-inning homer in Game 7 of the ALCS in 2003 eliminated Boston, said what he remembered from that series was that neither team could count on any momentum from one game to the next.
“I kind of throw that out the window,” he said. “In those years, both teams were so good. And one team would kill the other team one day, and you would think, ‘here we go.’ And the next day the other team would answer back.”
Happ went 7-0 for the Yankees after coming to New York before the trade deadline. Masahiro Tanaka will pitch Game 2 of the series against David Price. Boone added reliever Stephen Tarpley and lefty CC Sabathia to the roster in place of infielder Tyler Wade and catcher Kyle Higashioka.
Cora has said that 2016 Cy Young winner Rick Porcello will pitch Game 3, with Nathan Eovaldi scheduled to go in Game 4.
Sale is still recovering from left shoulder inflammation that landed him on the disabled list twice in the second half of the season and limited him to 12 innings from July 11 until Sept. 11. He made four starts down the stretch as he tried to build up arm strength, but in his previous outing last Wednesday his fastball was the slowest he’s had all year.
Sale adjusted his preparation because of rain Tuesday, pushing back some of his work to Wednesday so he could pitch off a regular mound instead of in the batting cage. Manager Alex Cora said Sale is “a full go,” and the problems with his velocity were related to his mechanics and not his health or arm strength.
Either way, Sale insisted, “if I take the mound, I expect to win.”
“Sometimes you go out there and you have your best, sometimes you don’t,” he said. “You have to find a way with whatever you have on any given day, and roll with it.”