The lefty’s feelings stem from a 2017 ALDS start in Houston.
FORT MYERS, Fla. — Chris Sale may not have heard the trash-can banging, or knew what he and the rest of the baseball world knows now, but he certainly had his suspicions.
It was Oct. 5, 2017, Game 1 of the ALDS in Houston, when Sale made his first career playoff start, and his only one at Minute Maid Park in 2017. He was promptly lit up by the Astros for seven runs on nine hits, including three homers, two of which came in back-to-back fashion by Alex Bregman and Jose Altuve in the first inning.
The Red Sox were blown out, 8-2, and eventually eliminated in four games by the Astros, who ultimately won the World Series.
More than two years later, though, in one of the biggest scandals in baseball history, it was revealed that the Astros illegally used technology to steal signs throughout the 2017 season — including the playoffs. And while Sale hasn’t gone back to review the tape, he certainly remembers how he felt on the mound on that October day in 2017, and like many around baseball, couldn’t help but feel like something was off.
“I think they ran out of fireworks in Houston,” Sale said. “That guy on the train, it must have kept his job for another year. That was tough. I was standing out there on the mound and saying, ‘How the hell are they doing ...’ They were hitting breaking balls over the fence, hitting fastballs at their neck. Yeah, it crosses your mind. But what kind of idiot do you look like if they actually weren’t? I’m not going to sit there and say they were because I don’t have 100% evidence. I guess there is in the investigation, but in that specific scenario I don’t know. ...”
The Astros’ sign-stealing scandal, the fallout, the apologies and everything associated with it has dominated the sport’s discussion as spring training begins. Prominent players are speaking out and letting their frustrations be heard as they arrive at camp, from Cody Bellinger to Trevor Bauer to Kris Bryant and several others.
But Sale, while he had his suspicions, stopped short of ripping the Astros. He wasn’t sure how much of his poor playoff outing had to do illegal sign-stealing, and even if it did, it’s in the past now.
“Yeah, it (stinks). But what am I going to do?” Sale said. “Am I going to hold them at gunpoint? Am I going to sit here and curse them out through a bunch of cameras? If I have something to say to them, I know those guys. I can get one of their numbers and text them and talk to them face-to-face or whatever. It happened. What are you going to do about it? You can sit around and cry about it or I can get my (butt) to work and try and win a championship.”
Sale, though, is certainly concerned about how the scandal has rocked the sport and thinks it’s important for it to be cleaned up.
MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said in an interview with ESPN on Sunday that there is “no question” the league will have a new policy before the 2020 season that limits access to video during games. That’s just one idea as baseball attempts to move forward.
Sale was enlightening as he discussed his feelings about all that has transpired within the sport he cares about so deeply.
“I think there are some steps to be taken,” Sale said. “Luckily I’m not running the show and I don’t have to figure all that out. I think we just have to get back to playing the game. The X’s and O’s. If I’m better than you on a certain day, I win. If you’re better than me on a certain day you win. There’s a lot, not only with the Astros, but there has been a lot of chatter of stuff going on around the league for years now. It’s been going on for a while. I would like to see it cleaned up. I enjoy competition. You guys know me, if I go out there and I get beat on a day I will tell you I got beat. That’s just part of it. ...
“I’m not going to play this game forever. I want to leave this game in a better way than I started. If I can do something to impact that, I will. I would like to do that. This puts a negative tone on the game of baseball for the future players of this game and it opens up the door that I don’t think was open before. You would hate to think ... I’m no choir boy, by any means. I’ve done some things in the past that I’m not proud of and some things I wouldn’t want my sons to do, but you try and do things the right way and you try and promote this game in a positive light for kids in the future.”
The Red Sox, of course, are still under investigation for their own alleged sign stealing in 2018. Sale, who threw the final pitch that season to win the World Series, said he’s talked with investigators, said he’s hopeful it will be over soon so that people can know the truth.
Sale didn’t exactly declare the team’s innocence, only saying to wait for the investigation to come to a conclusion.
“They’re only trying to do their job and make right by all this,” Sale said of MLB. “They asked me, ‘Hey, you want to talk to these guys? Yeah, I do. Because I want to help make this right. Is it frustrating? Yeah. It took 30 minutes out of one of my days in the offseason? Whatever. But to get the truth and to make this a better game, I’m in. That’s what I’ve talked about basically this whole interview, getting all this right and making this a better game when I leave.”