By Kevin Flanagan
BSD Senior Staff Writer
From the day he made his first start at Fenway Park on April 11th in 1998, Pedro Martinez was appointment viewing for Red Sox fans. Sox fans across New England could tell you off the top of their heads when the dominant Dominican’s next turn was in the rotation on any given day. And if you needed a bathroom break or wanted another beer, you waited until number 45 strode towards the Olde Towne Team’s dugout before you left your seat.
From ’98 until he left as a free agent – and a World Series Champion – for the Mets in the fall of 2004, nobody in Boston would ever entertain doing anything else but watch when the Hall of Famer took the mound.
In more years than I am willing to admit watching Red Sox pitchers – even Roger Clemens in his prime – there never was and likely will never be another hurler who was as compelling – not to mention capable of doing something you had never seen before on the hill – than Pedro Martinez.
However, the fortunate Fenway Faithful who is currently watching history be made in the Lyrical Little Bandbox on a nightly basis during this dream season have been blessed by bearing witness to the next best thing.
The lefthanded lightning that staff ace Chris Sale commands like Arthur Fiedler conducting the Boston Pops at the Esplanade on the 4th of July.
In his first season in Boston in 2017, Sale came out loaded for bear, posting 1.19 ERA in five starts in April. By the end of July, he touted a 13-4 record, a 2.37 ERA and was the clear favorite in the American League to win the Cy Young Award.
However, instead of learning from his past when the lean lefty tended to tire during the dog days of summer, his then manager John Farrell rode him like a rented mule – in game 152 during a 9-0 blowout against a bad Orioles team in Baltimore, he had him throw eight innings and 111 pitches to get to 300 strikeouts on the season – just to save his job.
It is decisions like that which turn you from a big-league manager in Boston, into a scout for the Cincinnati Reds in a heartbeat.
Rookie manager Alex Cora – who should run away with the AL Manager of the Year Award at the end of the season – and newly promoted pitching coach Dana LaVangie, entered spring training with a plan to keep their most valuable asset on the mound, healthy and rested for a postseason run.
For the most part, Sale has bought in. However, he didn’t seem very pleased when he was placed on the disabled list on August 1st – a move that much resembled the way the Sox handled Martinez in his prime – which meant he would miss a scheduled start against the Yankees. As it turned out, Sale sat for two turns of the rotation, during which the Sox swept the Yanks in four games and compiled a 9-1 record without their ace.
In his return to the mound in Baltimore on Sunday, Sale took out his frustrations by obliterating an awful Orioles club to the tune of 12 strikeouts over five innings pitched, in which he surrendered just one hit, no runs and lowered his league-leading ERA to a scant 1.97 for the season.
Talk about Pedro-esque.
In his last three starts – which, of course, were separated by his forced vacation – Sale has held opposing batters to an obscenely low .105 batting average. He has pitched 17 innings, struck out over half of the hitters he has faced (61 plate appearances, 31 strikeouts recorded), and not allowed an earned run.
If you don’t think that numbers like that aren’t appointment viewing worthy, I don’t think that you are a baseball fan.
There are many reasons why this Red Sox season has been much more fun to watch than any team since the 2013 World Series Champions. J.D. Martinez emergence as the best hitter in baseball, along with Mookie Betts becoming the best overall player in MLB – both of whom are appointment viewing, as well – have breathed life into what was a stale club the past two years.
That being said, it is hard to top a Sale start when it comes to enjoying talent at its peak. And while they might not be as frequent as some might like leading into September – Sale will pitch on extra rest due to two off days this week for the Sox – they are still moments to savor.
After all, you don’t serve fine wine for dinner every evening; but when you do, it rarely disappoints.