NEW YORK — Much will be made of the afternoon’s players-only meeting at Yankee Stadium, but make no mistake, Saturday was about one man: Chris Sale.
His frustrating year hit a crescendo in the Bronx.
Awarded a five-year, $145 million extension in March, Sale fell to 5-11 with one of his worst starts of the season. He couldn’t get out of the fourth inning against the Yankees, allowing eight earned runs, and his ERA swelled to 4.68.
Sale could generally teach a masterclass on media relations, but after the loss, he hit the wrong notes. There was finger pointing at the umpire, specifically one missed strike call in the fourth inning.
“It’s hard enough playing this game as it is, you give these guys extra outs it’s going to hurt,” Sale said. “It kind of changed the landscape of the game, but...there’s got to be something that can be done about this.
“We’re held as accountable as players, as coaches, I take pride in holding myself accountable and I’ll be the first to tell you I don’t think I threw the ball terrible, but I definitely didn’t throw the ball great today but like I said, it’s a little tough when at this level you give those guys in those situations extra strikes and extra outs.”
The Red Sox were miffed about an 0-2 pitch to Gio Ureshela, which probably should have been strike three, but was called a ball. It’s baseball. This stuff happens. It was just a one-on, one-out situation.
What unfolded after that decided the game.
It was an 0-2 pitch, not a 3-2. The Sale of old probably would have shrugged, spit, and struck Ureshela out again. Instead he worked the count full and gave up a scalded single.
Still, no damage had been done in the fourth.
Sale retired Cameron Maybin, and simply needed to get Kyle Higashioka — a .192 hitter — to escape. He couldn’t. The third-string catcher ripped a single that left his bat at 104 mph to load the bases.
Still, no runs had scored in the inning.
Sale could again get out unscathed if he retired Breyvic Valera (.534 career OPS). Yes, that Breyvic Valera.
Sale couldn’t. Another single put the Yanks up, 2-1.
Feeling the game starting to slip away, Alex Cora went to the mound to get ejected — and perhaps buy his ace the next call.
“It was only one purpose,” Cora said. “I wasn’t talking about mechanics or anything. It was just, let me know when he’s coming and I’m going to let him how I feel.”
Sale let him know, Cora said something he wasn’t allowed to say, and the manager was tossed by home plate umpire Mike Estabrook.
It didn’t help.
Fresh off the Injured List, Brett Gardner was the No. 9 hitter, and he too singled. D.J. LeMahieu delivered the death blow, his second homer of the game was a three-run bomb, and after an Aaron Judge double, Sale was pulled by bench coach Ron Ronicke.
He cursed Estabrook out as he walked off the mound.
“I take pride in being accountable, that’s on me, but the circumstances didn’t help a lot,” Sale said. “You’ve got to find a way to grind through that. Nothing’s going to happen to (Estabrook), I’m sure. He’ll be out there today at third base and probably behind the plate again. I’m sure I’ll get fined. I’m sure A.C. will get fined. All for things that, I think we can be justified by.”
New York tagged Sale for nine hits and eight earned in 3 2/3 innings. On the season he fell to 0-4 against with an ERA of 9.90 against them.
Estabrook didn’t give up three straight singles to the bottom third of the Yankees batting order or two homers to LeMahieu, Sale did.
Casting blame on anyone other himself has never been in Sale’s playbook, but likely speaks to the level frustration he’s feeling. Though everyone insists he’s healthy, the results haven’t been there for Sale for the better part of four months now.
“It seems like guys now are hitting the mistakes,” Sale said. “In previous years if you make a few mistakes you might get away with a couple. Honestly haven’t been good, but haven’t been lucky at all either. Just seems like every mistake I make gets capitalized on on the other side.”
Sale hasn’t looked like himself on the mound this season, and in the Bronx, he sure didn’t sound like himself either.
Chris Mason is a Red Sox beat writer for the Eagle-Tribune and CNHI Sports Boston. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow him on Twitter at @ByChrisMason