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Silverman: Another rough Chris Sale outing builds drama

September 27, 2017 GMT

Forget about winning the Cy Young.

Forget about catching up to Pedro Martinez, too.

How about Chris Sale keeps it real simple by remembering how to pitch like Chris Sale .?.?. before it’s too late.

With flamboyantly poor timing and jarringly bad results — five runs allowed on four home runs in five innings last night — Sale injected a healthy dose of doubt, disarray and angst into the remaining five games of the Red Sox season.

Another Yankees win and Sale’s 9-4 loss to the Blue Jays kept the Red Sox’ magic number for clinching the AL East at three.

A very late-season surge of injuries to mainstays Mookie Betts, Dustin Pedroia and Eduardo Nunez already lent an uncomfortable cast to the game before Sale threw a pitch. That made his no-show effort on a night when an ace is expected to show up triply maddening.

“I’m still doing what I can out there. Just sometimes it doesn’t work out. You can’t have a good day at work every day,” Sale said. “Unfortunately, what I do is amplified because we’re here and we’re in the thick of it. Just flat-out have to win games. I’m not doing that. I’m as frustrated as anybody on the planet right now about that.”

Sale is on schedule to throw the final game of the season Sunday against the Houston Astros. Nobody can say if the club will have clinched the division by then. But given how Sale’s workload has unquestionably caught up to him to the extent he is alternating sterling outings with poor ones, this is the exact moment when the club needs him at his best and sharpest for each October appearance.

So prepare yourself for an almost unbearable amount of debate about if and for how long Sale should pitch Sunday if the Red Sox have not clinched.

Or, if they have clinched, will the team want him to throw an abbreviated outing to stay sharp so he does not sit for eight days before his start in a potential Division Series Game 1 next Thursday?

Do they instead have him throw a simulated game in order to keep the Astros from having a look at him before they see him in their likely playoff matchup?

Lots of questions.

Way too many questions.

“I think it’s probably too early to answer that definitively,” manager John Farrell said. “We just have to see how these final five games play out. We know where we stand. We know what’s ahead of us.”

Sale did not want to entertain a hypothetical.

“That’s not my call,” Sale said. “I answer the phone when it rings. When they tell me to go out there, I go out there. Whenever that is, it is, and I’ll be ready for it.”

If Sale sits Sunday then continues his trend of pitching well in every other start, all this drama will be gone by the end of next week.

But still, all the drama could have been avoided if the lefty had come even close to his usual dominance of Toronto. He had not allowed a single run in his previous three starts and 22 innings against the Blue Jays this season, but he was nowhere near untouchable last night.

Even before the game, he was fading fast in the race for the AL Cy Young. He trailed Cleveland’s Corey Kluber in all the significant pitching categories except strikeouts and innings.

He began the night 13 strikeouts shy of Martinez’ single-season franchise record. After striking out five (and allowing his first home run) in the first two innings, Sale looked as if he might have it in him to post a special night and maybe even claim the record for himself.

Then he gave up his second home run in the third inning. And two more in the fifth.

And then he was done, finishing with eight strikeouts.

He needs five to tie, six to pull ahead.

The so-called chase sure looks meaningless and hollow, two qualities that do not apply at all to Sale. The strikeout record has nothing to do with what’s at stake for Sale and the team.

“We’ve set ourselves up nice this year,” Sale said. “We’ve played hard. We’re going to continue to play hard until the deed is done. “Can’t let this kind of stuff linger. (We’re) too good of a ball team. We’ve been playing really good lately. I just went out there and stunk it up for us, didn’t give us a chance to win, and that’s on me.”

If the Red Sox need Sale to clinch Sunday, they will use him.

Like all of us, the Sox have to wait and cross that bridge when they come to it.

But again, Sale’s rough night will make that wait even longer. And much more excruciating.