The Boston Red Sox used ace Chris Sale out of the bullpen to lock down the eighth inning of Game 4 of the ALDS and it paid off.
Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora seemed hesitant to commit to using Chris Sale out of the bullpen leading up to Game 4 of the ALDS, stating it would take the perfect situation for him to consider that scenario. Apparently, the perfect situation presented itself in the eighth inning.
The move wasn’t without risk. Sale, who started Game 1 of the series, would be needed if the series was extended to a fifth game. Could they afford to send their ace to the mound, even for one inning, with a potential Game 5 looming two days later?
It’s a dilemma the Red Sox were faced with late in the game, clinging to a three-run lead. Boston’s bullpen hasn’t exactly been lights out this season. Someone had to get the ball to the closer with the opportunity to end the series.
"“He’s been talking about it for three days already,” Cora told reporters, via NBC Sports Boston’s Evan Drellich. “In the seventh, we got together, Dana [LeVangie], Ron [Roenicke], and myself. We already talked to the training staff about if he was okay to come in. He was in the bullpen, but it was kind of like his day. Everybody was on board. I even shouted to the dugout, ‘Hey, we’re all in. He’s coming in.’ ”"
You knew Sale was chomping at the bit to get in the game and he didn’t let us down when given the opportunity. He breezed through a clean eighth inning, recording a fly out, groundout, and a strikeout to set the Yankees down in order.
While there were certainly reasons to be uneasy about the decision, bringing Sale in for this moment was worth the risk.
Sure, there was the potential he would need to start two days later but pitchers typically throw in the bullpen between starts. This would have been Sale’s day to throw, so using him for one inning wouldn’t dramatically throw off his routine.
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If not Sale, who else would they have turned to? Matt Barnes had already been used in the sixth. Ryan Brasier threw a fairly economical 14 pitches in the seventh but it seems unlikely they would have pushed him for another full inning. He pitched two full innings only once this season and that was back in July before he earned his role in high leverage situations. Joe Kelly and Heath Hembree were surprisingly effective in this series but how much do you trust either of them in that spot?
Using any of those options to get an out or two before turning it over to Craig Kimbrel early wouldn’t be ideal either. Kimbrel earned a four-out save in Game 1 but not without coughing up a home run to Aaron Judge. Kimbrel has always been sharper when he’s in his comfort zone of a classic three-out save situation. That’s what he was tasked with last night and he barely made it out without blowing the game, allowing a pair of runs and putting the winning run on base.
Cora treated Game 4 as a must-win, all hands on deck situation. With good reason.
Using Sale to lock down the eighth inning helped ensure the Red Sox would wrap up this series without going back to Fenway Park for a Game 5. Using him for one inning last night means Sale doesn’t have to start again in this series. Now he can be saved for Game 1 of the ALCS against the Houston Astros. Had the Red Sox been forced to start their ace in a do-or-die game against the Yankees, Sale probably wouldn’t be available to start until Game 3 in the next round. That means they might only have the chance to use him once against Houston.
The Red Sox will need to lean on Sale even more in the ALCS and that simply wouldn’t be possible if the Yankees pushed this round to five games. Boston couldn’t afford to blow this game so they went with their best option. Sale is the best eighth-inning setup man this team has and it’s not even close.