Chris Sale on better opportunity with Boston: “I’m here to win”
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Chris Sale had them eating out of his hands.
Meeting with Boston Red Sox media Tuesday for the first time since being traded by the White Sox in December, Sale joked it was a good thing his new team doesn’t have throwback jerseys. Such a cutup!
He deadpanned about suddenly being a New England Patriots fan and poked fun at the men in his lineage — ‘‘tall, skinny guys everywhere’’ — each somehow more of a beanpole than the last.
A reporter remarked that Sale, reputedly an emotionally volatile guy, actually seemed quite pleasant.
‘‘Thanks,’’ Sale said, smiling brightly. ‘‘I haven’t heard that in a while.’’
Yes, it’s crystal clear the five-time All-Star left-hander is pleased with his new circumstances.
No lingering sadness. Zero regrets. The weight of losing has been lifted from his shoulders, and the expectations of winning — big — are most welcome.
‘‘The whole reason we’re here is to win,’’ Sale, 27, said. ‘‘They wouldn’t keep score if winning wasn’t important. I’m here to win.’’
Being with the Red Sox this spring really is a beautiful thing for Sale, who was 74-50 with a 3.00 ERA in six-plus seasons with the White Sox. Fort Myers is where Sale attended college (at Florida Gulf Coast University), and he still has several buddies from those years nearby. He grew up in Lakeland, only 100 or so miles away, and now lives with his wife and two sons in Naples, just a hop, skip and jump down the Gulf Coast.
All that is wonderful, but the operative word for Sale is ‘‘win.’’ He estimated that he used some form of the word ‘‘157 times’’ during a 16-minute conversation with media on the day of the Red Sox’ first team workout.
Watching the Cubs win the 2016 World Series only reaffirmed for Sale how badly he wants to experience the postseason for the first time in his career, which began with the White Sox in 2010 — two seasons after their last playoff appearance.
‘‘I always watched the postseason,’’ he said. ‘‘Unfortunately, I always had the opportunity to watch it. But I always watch it just to see what it’s like, see how those guys handle themselves. And I’m just dreaming about getting there. I mean, that’s all I’ve ever wanted to do.’’
It became obvious to Sale it wasn’t going to happen for him with the White Sox, who’ve had four consecutive losing seasons. They reeled in four quality prospects, including coveted second baseman Yoan Moncada, for Sale, which is about the nicest way to say they’re in rebuilding mode.
And that sort of situation just isn’t for Sale. Not anymore. Not at all.
‘‘You don’t want to start a year knowing when your last game is going to be,’’ he said.
Sale wasn’t openly critical of the White Sox, but he made it clear there’s a winning culture with his new team that he hadn’t experienced before. He spoke about seeing championship banners and the names of several All-Stars above lockers, including that of 2016 American League Cy Young Award winner Rick Porcello, whose locker is next to his. Those two, along with another former Cy Young winner, left-hander David Price, will be the heart of one of the best starting rotations in baseball.
‘‘When you have guys of that caliber, it raises the intensity,’’ Sale said. ‘‘You can feel what this team is about coming in, the intensity not only in the players but the [organization]. They hold a very high standard.’’
There’s no doubt the Red Sox are on the short list of World Series contenders. Sale pledged to do his part to help get them there — without letting his emotions get the better of him, as he did on at least a couple of infamous occasions last season.
‘‘I hold myself to very high expectations,’’ he said. ‘‘I demand a lot, sometimes unrealistically. When you put so much into winning, it’s tough not winning.’’
Sale made no apologies, for example, for the jersey-cutting incident that might be the enduring anecdote from his time with the White Sox.
‘‘Things are going to happen,’’ he said. ‘‘Nobody’s perfect. You’re going to make mistakes. All I really want to say on that is you live and you learn. . . . If you learn from your mistakes, that’s the key. If you learn from it, you become a better person.’’
Does that mean taking scissors to those White Sox throwbacks was a mistake?
‘‘It was something I learned from,’’ he said. ‘‘I’ll leave it at that.’’
Around Sale’s new team, everyone is just fine with that. As fresh starts go, this one seems mighty fine.
Follow me on Twitter @SLGreenberg.