Chris Sale Is Immaculate

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Chris Sale racked up his third win of the season on Thursday in a 12-2 Boston Red Sox win over the Minnesota Twins. In 5.1 innings, Sale allowed two runs on two hits while striking out eight. It was another encouraging start for the lefty ace as he continues his comeback tour. The highlight of this start was his third inning when he completed his third career immaculate inning. This tied hall of famer Sandy Koufax for the most in MLB history and it makes him the first Red Sox pitcher since Pedro Martinez in 2002 to complete an immaculate inning at Fenway Park.

“Today was probably the best my mechanics have been start to finish.” Sale told reporters. It definitely seemed as if Sale was at the top of his game. Nick Gordon, Andrelton Simmons, and Rob Refsnyder bit the dust as Sale hurled an array of pitches. Each one of the victims struck out swinging. It was a masterpiece. Let’s take a deeper dive into the immaculate third inning from Mr. Sale.

Victim # 1: Nick Gordon

The first pitch was a 91 mile per hour fastball down the middle, Gordon fouled it off of his back foot for strike one. With Gordon being a lefty, Sale attacks those hitters up and to the glove side with his fastballs (so for Sale, that’s up and in). With the count at 0-1, Sale delivered a front door slider that just caught the inside of the plate, strike two.

Sale makes it extremely tough for a lefty like Gordon to see his stuff. When Sale faces a lefty, the ball is basically coming at Gordon from behind his back. And often, the ball that starts behind that hitter’s back is a slider that breaks across the entire plate and ends up on the other side. In this case, Sale showed crazy precision as he hit the glove-side corner.

 0-2 was the count when Sale got Gordon with strike three. Gordon went down swinging on some high cheddar. Coming in at 92 miles per hour, it was far from his “F-U pitch” displayed later in the game but it’s the setup that got Gordon biting on the high fastball nowhere near the zone. It was a master class on how to create deception by changing the eye level of a hitter, one out.

Victim #2 Andrelton Simmons

Simmons came to the plate for his first at-bat of the night. First pitch was a nasty, sweeping back-door slid- nope that’s an 85 mile per hour changeup in the bottom of the zone. Simmons swung right through it for strike one. That changeup came in with 20 inches of horizontal break. To put this in perspective of just how crazy that is for a changeup, Oakland A’s reliever Sergio Romo leads the league in changeup horizontal drop at 20.7 inches. Most sliders don’t have that much horizontal movement (just filthy).

The 0-1 pitch came in as a low, sweeping slider that Simmons just got a piece of, and fouled it down the third base line. You could tell the velocity difference threw Simmons off a bit as he was clearly out in front. The slider came in at an almost six mph difference than the changeup, strike two. Two pitches, two pitches low in the zone. Can you guess what’s next?

Simmons being down 0-2 in the count swung and a missed for strike three. Simmons, just like Gordon chased the high heat and got sat down. This fastball had a little more gas in the tank as Sale hit 94 mph for that beauty. With that strikeout, Sale was just one out away from making history. 

Victim #3: Rob Refsnyder

Up next was leadoff man Rob Refsnyder. Sale had already gotten Refsnyder on strikes in the first inning. During the first matchup, Sale started Refsnyder off with two four-seamers up in the zone. With that, Refsnyder was probably looking for that same sequence for his second at-bat. First pitch came in as a 77 mph slider that swept inside the zone for a called strike. All Refsnyder could do is look.

The 0-1 pitch was a changeup that caught the same part of the plate as the first pitch slider, strike two. Again notice the change in speeds between Sale’s slider and his changeup. A ten mph difference is a lot. Refsnyder made contact and fouled it off down the third base line.

Now 0-2, Sale was  one pitch away from adding to his already impressive career resume. So far in that at-bat, Refsnyder had seen the sweeping slider and the changeup middle in. Refsnyder had to be thinking a fastball has to be coming, right? Wrong, Sale pumped in an even nastier slider that fooled the Twins’ righty. He tried to check his swing, but to no avail. Strike three, Chris Sale had just done what only one other man in the history of major league baseball has done.

Elite Pitching

What makes Chris Sale so nasty was definitely on display during that magical third inning. Everyone got to see the changes in speed, and eye level, and the perfect mixing of his three-pitch repertoire. It was all there. If anyone had doubts on if Sale could regain his old form, they have to be gone by now. So far in three starts, Sale is among the league’s best. For a squad looking for a spark like the Red Sox, this is definitely a welcomed sight.  

Chris Sale First Three Starts of 2021



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Players Mentioned:

Chris Sale, Sandy Koufax, Pedro Martinez, Nick Gordon, Andrelton SimmonsRob Refsnyder, Sergio Romo