Through the first few weeks of the season, it looked like Chris Sale was broken. After his first five starts, Sale owned a 7.43 ERA with a 5.58 FIP. His strikeout rate fell to 22.6 percent which isn’t bad for a normal pitcher, but Sale is used to posting marks in the high 30’s. More concerning was his sudden decline in fastball velocity. Maybe he hadn’t recovered from the extra innings he threw in Boston’s championship run or maybe he was just turning 30 and thus crossing the rainbow bridge.
But for a pitcher who ZiPS projects to lead baseball in fWAR in 2021, this sudden implosion was startling. You had to figure that it was just a blip. That we were only paying attention to it because it was the start of the season, and the expectations around him are so high, and he uh, was throwing 88 mph fastballs. Okay, maybe that last one is pretty bad, but sooner or later, he was going to put things together.
Turns out he’s put things together. On Tuesday night, Sale struck out 17 batters in seven innings. That’s something that no other pitcher has ever done. He didn’t get a chance to tie or break the 20-strikeout record shared by Max Scherzer, Kerry Wood, and Roger Clemens, but even so, what Sale did was a rarity.
Chris Sale is the...— MLB Stats (@MLBStats) May 15, 2019
- 1st pitcher since Max Scherzer (May 11, 2016) to strike out 17+.
- 1st LHP with 17+ K since Johan Santana (Aug. 19, 2007).
- 1st Red Sox pitcher to do so since Pedro Martínez (May 6, 2000).
- 1st pitcher to EVER strike out 17+ in 7 or fewer IP. pic.twitter.com/IulhkL73J5
When Sale came out of the game, he had thrown 108 pitches, and in his final inning, he had given up his only two runs of the game when Trevor Story singled and Nolan Arenado hit a homer. But he rebounded from that to strike the next three batters out on twelve pitches, so he still had something left. All he needed to do to break the record was strikeout out four batters in the next two innings.
While I see why Alex Cora and the Red Sox wanted to prioritize the health of Sale’s arm over an individual achievement, I wish that he could have gotten a chance to go for it. Just a few weeks ago, Mike Fiers was allowed to throw 131 pitches to complete his second no-hitter and no-hitters are infinitely less impressive than the strikeout record. Case in point: Mike Fiers has two no-hitters.
Even if we’ll never know if Sale could have done it, we can still marvel at just how dirty he did the Rockies.
Chris Sale's 17Ks tonight...in under 37 seconds. pic.twitter.com/2F8NvChI2e— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) May 15, 2019
*takes off glasses* My God. *puts glasses back on to watch video again.*
Do you have a favorite? Mine is the fastball that ran in on David Dahl’s hands and but maybe you prefer Nolan Arenado almost falling down trying to hit a changeup.
It’s worth pointing out that the Red Sox bullpen immediately blew the lead and Boston lost the game in the 11th inning. I suppose that’s what you get for not letting a guy chase history.