BOSTON (AP) – Red Sox ace Chris Sale and manager Alex Cora both made early exits in Boston’s 7-2 loss to the Houston Astros in Game 1 of AL Championship Series on Saturday night.
Sale lasted just four innings, giving up two runs on one hit, four walks and a hit batter.
Cora wasn’t far behind the lanky left-hander going back to the clubhouse. The rookie manager was ejected in the bottom of the fifth inning with the game tied 2-2 after arguing a called third strike on Andrew Benintendi that ended Boston’s first rally of the game.
Sale opened the game with an eight-pitch walk to George Springer and struggled through the first three innings with subpar stuff and location.
Houston took advantage in the second. Sale got two quick outs, but then walked Carlos Correa, plunked Martin Maldonado on the hand with a fastball and walked Josh Reddick. Springer followed with a hard grounder past third baseman Eduardo Nunez to put Boston ahead 2-0.
Sale decided to go sleeveless despite a 48-degree first pitch, and it took too long for his fastball to heat up. His velocity has been a focus since a shoulder issue landed him on the disabled list in August. He returned in September but averaged just 90 mph in his final regular-season tuneup, well below his standard.
He jumped back up to about 95 mph in two effective outings against the Yankees in the Division Series, but was sitting a relatively sluggish 90-93 on Saturday.
His control was shaky, too, even as he perhaps took something off his fastball and slider after falling behind in counts. He threw one pitch behind Alex Bregman, and all four of his walks came in the first two innings.
Sale had just two swings and misses in the first three innings before finding a groove in the fourth. That was enough for Cora, though, who pulled Sale after 86 pitches. Sale struck out five, including Correa and Maldonado to end his outing.
The 29-year-old allowed five hits and two earned runs, striking out nine over 6 1/3 innings in his ALDS Game 1 win over Yankees. He also came on in relief during Game 4, retiring all three batters he faced during the eighth inning.
Saturday night’s start harkened back to the rough outing he had in his postseason debut in Game 1 of last season’s ALDS against Houston. Sale gave up seven earned runs in the five innings he pitched in that outing, yielding a pair of home runs to Jose Altuve and another to Bregman in a loss.
Sale came on in a relief appearance in Game 4 of that series as well, holding the Astros scoreless through four innings before allowing two runs in the Red Sox’s 5-4 Game 4 loss as Houston wrapped up the series, 3-1.
Cora stuck around long enough to pull Sale and use Mitch Moreland as a pinch hitter in the fifth before he was tossed while standing up for Benintendi.
There were two out, two on and two runs already in when Justin Verlander threw a 98 mph fastball to Benintendi near the outside edge for strike three. Benintendi slammed his helmet and bat down and pleaded his case with plate umpire James Hoye before Red Sox coaches ran in to get between them.
Cora continued to yell from the dugout and was tossed by Hoye. Cora gave the lineup card to bench coach Ron Roenicke and walked down the tunnel into the clubhouse.
Houston took a 3-2 lead in the sixth and it remained that way until Roenicke gave the ball to Brandon Workman in the ninth. Workman gave up two homers and four runs while getting one out with closer Craig Kimbrel watching from the bullpen. Heath Hembree replaced Workman and got out of the inning. Kimbrel never got in the game.
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