Chris Sale shines in watered down Red Sox-Yankees rivalry

Mar 21, 2017; Tampa, FL, USA; Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Chris Sale (41) throws a pitch in the second inning against the New York Yankees during spring training at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Mandatory Credit: Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 21, 2017; Tampa, FL, USA; Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Chris Sale (41) throws a pitch in the second inning against the New York Yankees during spring training at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Mandatory Credit: Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports /

The rivalry between the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees isn’t what it used to be, but don’t tell that to Chris Sale.

There was a time when the American League East used to be a perennial five team race for the division title. Since 2011, every team but the Tampa Bay Rays has finished atop the standings at least once and there has been a representative from the division in the ALCS every year since 2012. Simply stated, the AL East is the class of the American League, if not all of baseball.

The day the Red Sox went out and acquired Chris Sale, December 6th, 2016, that was supposed to change. On paper, the club was head and shoulders above the competition. If everything went according to plan, historians would look back on that as the day the Red Sox clinched the division. They added a perennial Cy Young candidate to a team that already possessed two winners, with the best lineup in baseball, coming off a 93-win season.

If there was an arms race in the AL East, the Red Sox were the United States at the peak of the Cold War – only without any sizeable competition.

Tuesday’s game was meant to be the first preemptive strike. A warning sign to the division, and really the rest of the league, that the World Series was ours to lose. Well, that’s how it was supposed to go.

Instead, the Red Sox find themselves with more question marks than answers in their pitching staff. David Price is going to start the season on the DL and is roughly expected to miss his first three turns through the rotation. Drew Pomeranz left Monday’s game with triceps tightness, not as serious as the structural damage in his elbow that was treated over the winter, but serious nonetheless. Meanwhile, Steven Wright and Eduardo Rodriguez are both recovering from injuries and will begin the year as the team’s third and fourth starters. When Dave Dombrowski made the trade to acquire Sale in December, none of this seemed plausible.

There was a time when yesterday’s game would have gained national appeal, even in mid-March. A game under the lights between these two clubs would have been a welcomed breath of fresh air during the monotony of Spring Training baseball. Today, it’s only a talking point.

As a newcomer, Sale did his best to buy into the hype. During a post-game scrum in the Sox clubhouse, he emphasized the magnitude of the rivalry. “Anybody who knows anything about sports knows Boston and New York,” he said. “Even from the outside looking in you can see it, you can sense the competitive drive in these teams, in this series.”

Remember that obstacle race the Red Sox held a few days ago? The Red Team vs. Blue Team. Well, that’s how they decided who had to make the two-hour trip to face the Yankees. Losing team had to travel. So much for the competitive drive in this series.

Still, Sale elected to make the drive and start against the Yankees for the first time in a Red Sox uniform, and we’re thankful that he did. In keeping with his career dominance of the Yankees (4-1, 1.17 ERA in 10 games), he allowed just two hits over his first five innings. Matt Holliday would take him deep in the sixth to drive in a pair, but that’s really just an afterthought.

More importantly, Sale struck 10 batters overall – including 9 of his first 14. He caught Gary Sanchez way out on his front foot in the first, putting him away on a changeup low and away; got Aaron Hicks to launch his bat four rows into the stands on a back-foot slider; and sat in the low-mid-90s with his fastball, spotting it with ease.

All told, he threw 86 pitches over six innings, striking out ten, allowing four hits and two runs while walking none.

Manager John Farrell was rightly impressed with his performance, as he praised the lefty’s stuff and ability to pitch at the highest level in an interview with’s Ian Browne.

"He was very good… He had his breaking ball to both sides of the plate, and got underneath to some right-handed swings. And any time he needs to, he’s got such good feel for the changeup to get him back in counts to give him a different look. He was impressive… Tonight, I don’t want to say it’s the norm, but certainly he’s very capable of doing that every night he walks to the mound."

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As the Red Sox deal with injuries to Price and Pomeranz, it’s comforting to know that they can still rely on pitchers of Sale’s caliber atop the rotation.