Chris Sale received a rude welcome to the postseason last October.
The Boston Red Sox traded a king's ransom for Sale ahead of the 2017 season specifically with the playoffs in mind. Unfortunately for him, the Houston Astros got in the way last year, as they knocked the lanky left-hander around for a total of nine earned runs in 9 2/3 innings when they met in the playoffs.
Sale, to little surprise, was named the Red Sox starter for Game 1 of the ALCS on Saturday against the Astros. Houston will be seeing a very different Sale on the mound, as he noted Wednesday that last year's shellacking at the hands of the defending champions taught him a few things about pitching in the playoffs.
"Don't suck," Sale told Pete Abraham of the Boston Globe when asked what he learned last year. "Seriously, man. It was a very humbling experience."
After missing time in the second half of the season with an injury, Sale returned in time for the postseason, and so far has been every bit of the October monster the Red Sox first envisioned. After a brilliant start in Game 1 of the Division Series against the Yankees, Sale emerged from the bullpen in the eighth inning of Tuesday's Game 4 to set up Craig Kimbrel, and he needed just 13 pitches to set the Bronx Bombers down in order.
Sale's two outings in the ALDS managed to lower his career postseason ERA by over two runs, and he seemed a lot more settled pitching under the bright lights this time around. The 29-year-old acknowledged as much Wednesday, and said what happened last year has turned him into a whole new pitcher.
"It's a lot better to be on the winning side," Sale said. "I've said all along I try to learn from every experience and learn obviously from my mistakes. My first go at it (in the playoffs) was god-awful, as bad as it could possibly get. Going through that made me better for this situation here and hopefully going forward.
"I look at a lot at what happened the first time around and obviously try to flip the script and here we are."