Former FGCU ace Chris Sale reflects on World Series run as Red Sox begin quest to repeat

Former FGCU ace and perennial Major League All-Star Chris Sale got to experience the dream of most young baseball players.

The 6-foot-6 lefty pitcher found himself on the mound in the ninth inning of Game 5 in the World Series last October, needing three outs to close out the Los Angeles Dodgers and clinch the title.

“It was kind of a trip,” Sale said Monday after Boston held its first full-squad workout in 2019. “It was obviously something special, warming up in the bullpen beforehand, walking out to the mound, everybody in the bullpen standing up cheering. That was a special moment. It just goes to show the unity, the camaraderie, that family vibe we have over here. Then you’re running into the game, kind of running through situations in your mind and also tell yourself to breathe and not trip on your way to the mound.”

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Oct 28, 2018; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Boston Red Sox pitcher Chris Sale (41) pitches in the ninth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers in game five of the 2018 World Series at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Sale certainly didn’t trip on his way to the mound or at any time during his dominant frame. He struck out Justin Turner, Enrique Hernandez and Manny Machado to close out a 5-1 victory and Boston’s fourth World Series win since breaking an 86-year drought in 2004. Sale earned his first-ever World Series ring in his second season with the Red Sox after an offseason trade brought him to Boston from the Chicago White Sox in December 2016.

Sale went 12-4 with a 2.11 earned run average last year, finishing fourth in the American League Cy Young voting despite missing most of the second half with a shoulder injury. He struck out 237 batters in 158 innings, walking 34 and giving up 102 hits for a 0.86 WHIP. The year before, he went 17-8 with a 2.90 ERA and finished second in the Cy Young voting. For his career, Sale is 103-62 with a 2.89 earned run average and has finished in the top five of the Cy Young voting in each of the last five seasons.

Boston Red Sox starting pitchers Nathan Eovaldi, left, and Chris Sale, warm up in the rain as pitchers and catchers report for their first workout at their spring training baseball facility in Fort Myers on Wednesday, Feb. 13.

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“Everything’s awesome about him,” rotation mate Nathan Eovaldi said. “In the clubhouse, he’s relaxed, he’s chill but as soon as he steps on the field, it’s like a switch goes on. That’s where you really see the competitiveness come out, and it’s fun to see first-hand what he’s able to do out there on the mound. I don’t think there’s any other pitcher in baseball that compares to him.”

Sale said the Red Sox are confident as a group and are hoping to build off last year’s success.

“It’s been fun,” he said. “Obviously, you want to build off last year and repeat that success. (Spring training) is kind of that first stage of going back for it.”

While Sale enjoyed his first seven big league seasons in Chicago, he admitted there’s a different feel playing for Boston, which has become a perennial playoff team in the last two decades.

“I’ve enjoyed my time here,” he said. “We’ve got a good mix of front office, coaching staff, medical staff, and players. I really enjoy my time here.”

It certainly doesn’t hurt to have the Red Sox spring facilities so close to his offseason Naples home, either.

“I came up here Monday through Friday in the offseason, training and working on the shoulder and getting that where it needs to be,” he said. “It works out well.”

Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Chris Sale warms up as pitchers and catchers report for their first workout at their spring training baseball facility on Wednesday, Feb. 13.

Sale, who was drafted in the first round by the White Sox in 2010 after a stellar career at FGCU, still maintains a close relationship with Eagles coach Dave Tollett and his staff. Sale and his family attended FGCU baseball’s opening game against Georgia Southern last Friday. The Eagles lost that game 6-3, but won the next two by a combined score of 35-7.

“They’ve been awesome to me over the years,” he said. “I took my oldest son (Rylan) and my wife to the game, along with some friends. Talked to Toe after the game, he said they’ve got a good squad. Looks like their pitching staff is going to hold it down for them this year. He said it’s probably one of the better staffs he’s had in a while. Obviously, that first game wasn’t what they wanted, but on Saturday they boatraced them (23-3), so that was good to see.”