By Mark Paulette
There are moments in sport, which transpire few and far between, that even script-writers in an air-conditioned Hollywood studio can’t do justice to. Tuesday night, in the top of the first inning at Fenway Park, Chris Sale provided one such instance, going from phenomenon-to-legend-to-leader in a matter of 13 pitches.
Sale began his night by calmly fanning Joey Rickard on five pitches to begin the ballgame. He then displayed acute awareness, stepping off the mound as the Fenway Faithful showered Adam Jones with a standing ovation following the racially-charged incidents of Monday night. After Jones’ extended greeting, Sale dispatched of him on three consecutive pitches, displaying a dominant command of his repertoire leaving no doubts that the lefty was in control this night.
As Manny Machado strode towards the batter’s box, the friendly demeanor which met Jones quickly turned to disdain among the Fenway crowd, who jeered Machado along his journey. The tall righty barely settled his feet into the dirt before a 98-mph fastball buzzed past the hollow of his knees and crashed into the green padding behind home plate.
There was no mistaking the message and no questions needed to be asked. A clear sign had been sent from Sale, who stood atop the mound staring daggers towards the dish as home plate umpire, D.J. Reyburn, leapt from his crouch behind Sandy Leon to issue warnings to both dugouts. As both managers raced onto the field from their respective seats, a pair of umps stood between Machado and the field of play, warning the O’s third basemen of the choice language he was hurling towards Sale.
The camera panned to Sale, still toeing the rubber, though standing perfectly still like John Wayne in a Western, waiting for his enemy to draw first so he could strike him down. Once the dust settled, that’s just what Sale did. Following a ball to run the count to 2-0, the lanky lefty punched out Machado over the next three pitches to utterly embarrass the young star.
After stomping off the mound, Sale calmly walked the length of the dugout, meeting every ecstatic teammate with a bump of the fist. He took a moment to gather himself, then stood in the center of the team aggressively pumping his arm and yelling a string of fiery comments. A night after Baltimore ‘dropped pants on’ the Sox, as Lou Merloni incorrectly surmised, Sale answered the call and restored balance to his side. It was the first-time Sale expressed any form of the fire which burns within him and I must say, it was the most beautiful sight of this 2017 season thus far.
Sale’s ability to control the moment coupled with his bullish, fearless demeanor had made him an instant icon in Boston. Every campaign has defining moments which are chronicled at season’s end. The 13-pitch performance put on by Sale Tuesday night in the top of the first was one such moment and one which resonated throughout a team searching for not only an identity, but a leader, and that’s just what Sale transformed into on this Tuesday in early May.
Mark Paulette is the senior producer of The Drive, weekdays 4pm to 6pm on 92.9fm The Ticket and streaming live at DriveShowMaine.com. Follow us on Twitter, @DriveShowMaine and “Like Us” on Facebook, Drive Show Maine.