One left the North Side to return to the Bronx. The other left the South Side for a new adventure in Boston. Aroldis Chapman and Chris Sale, the most dominant closer and the most electrifying starter in Chicago, are headliners in the Yankees-Red Soxrivalry, and their fortunes help explain Boston’s edge in the standings.
Chapman lost his closer’s job on Saturday, when Yankees Manager Joe Girardi told Chapman that he would use him earlier in games as a way to shake his alarming slump. Sale took the mound for the Red Sox as the major league leader in strikeouts and with a clear edge in the race for the American League Cy Young Award.
“Everything is impressive about him,” the Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez, the last Boston pitcher who had a season like this, said of Sale.
“He trusts his stuff so much,” Martinez said. “Plus, you look at him, and each outing, he never diminishes. His stamina is so good, his physical body has responded so well. That’s a guy that looks extremely confident in everything he does, every pitch. You don’t see him shake off any pitch. He has a rhythm and he understands it.
“It’s clicking for him, and he hasn’t had any distractions to actually move him away from the program he has. That’s beautiful to see.”
Sale had one of his less exquisite outings on Saturday, allowing four runs in seven innings of a 4-3 loss to the Yankees. He still struck out nine to raise his total to 250, and his record is 14-5 with a 2.62 earned run average. But Sale was bothered by the three-run homer he gave up to Tyler Austin, which preceded a bases-empty homer by Todd Frazier.
“Got bit by the homer bug again,” said Sale, who has allowed 15 in his 25 starts. “Any time I give up two homers in a game, it’s not going to work out so much. A solo shot’s not that big of a deal, but when guys get on base, I’ve just got to be better than that.”
It was a tight game, but Girardi did not call on Chapman, who has given up runs in his last four outings. He has allowed a .313 average in that stretch, walking five and striking out five in four and one-third innings. His E.R.A. has swollen by almost a run and a half, to 4.29, a career high.
The last time Chapman gave up runs in four consecutive appearances was early in the 2011 season, when he was with the Cincinnati Reds, who placed him on the disabled list because of shoulder inflammation after the fourth game. The Yankees put him there this May with rotator cuff trouble, and Chapman missed more than a month. They insist he is fine now.
“If he’s hurt, he’s masking it well,” Girardi said. “We’ve asked him again today.”
In the clubhouse early Saturday, more than an hour after the end of a marathon 9-6 Yankees loss, Chapman said he felt strong. But he had just allowed two hits, two runs and a walk in one inning — he entered with the Yankees trailing — and had neglected to back up home plate. He acknowledged frustration.
“I’ve been in different situations when things haven’t gone my way,” Chapman, 29, said through an interpreter. “This definitely is the hardest one, but I’m pretty sure I will be back.”