The issue isn’t which pitcher gave the Red Sox a better team to win Thursday, Craig Kimbrel or Chris Sale. The chances were overwhelmingly in the Red Sox’ favor either way.
It’s about ownership.
RED SOX 4, BLUE JAYS 1
Thursday belonged to Chris Sale, who was an exhibit of efficiency and dominance at Rogers Centre. He deserved a chance to finish off one of the best outings of his career.
Red Sox manager John Farrell didn’t give it to him.
Fortunately for Farrell -- and fortunately for Kimbrel, whose failure will be forgotten in this conversation -- the Sox still got a win over the Blue Jays, 4-1 in 10 innings, despite Kimbrel’s blown save.
Going to Kimbrel, an elite reliever who has looked otherworldly lately, is not a bad decision in itself. But on this day, Sale should have been afforded the chance to blow this game himself, rather than be told to watch while someone else screws it up for him.
"I'm going to want the ball in that situations 10 times out of nine," Sale told reporters in Toronto.
Sale said he told pitching coach Carl Willis he was available for the ninth.
Kimbrel served up a leadoff home run to Kendrys Morales in the ninth, a shot to straightaway center that tied the game at 1-1.
“After kind of a long inning (with a replay review in the top of the ninth) . . . [I] felt like it was time to turn it over to a guy who was fresh and powerful,” Farrell told reporters in Toronto.
It’s hard to say that Sale at 102 pitches is actually a better pitcher than Kimbrel at 0. These are two of the absolute best at their jobs. If either pitcher gave up a run, the choice would be second guessed -- and you know it.
You can say the Blue Jays benefited from a new look with Kimbrel coming in. You can argue the opposite: just consider how well Kimbrel has pitched lately.
But then, when you consider the same with Sale; when you consider the 13 strikeouts he had amassed on just 102 pitches; when you consider his ERA is now 0.91 in four starts with the Sox; it comes down to a feeling that this was his game.
Sale’s pitch count wasn’t too high. And he was already brushing with some history, albeit obscure history.
Sale on Thursday became the first Red Sox pitcher since Pedro Martinez in 2001 to strike out at least 12 in consecutive starts. (Pedro did it in four straight games that May.)
Thursday was the 28th time in major-league history a starter struck out 13 hitters while finishing with 102 pitches or fewer, per Baseball-Reference.com's Play Index. Teams are 21-7 in those kind of outings.
And Sale became the first starter in major-league history to strike out at least 13, finish with 102 pitches or fewer and have at least 80 of those pitches be strikes.
Farrell’s job is to put the best pitchers in position to win games.
Between Sale and Kimbrel, there was no obvious answer Thursday as to who would position the Sox better -- not with the way both have been throwing. Who's better, Sale at 102 pitches or Kimbrel at 0? You could argue for hours.
What it should have come down to for Farrell, then, was a realization Thursday belonged to Sale, until Sale gave it away himself.