NEW YORK -- Though he didn’t intend to harm Prince Fielder when he threw a pitch up and in last week in Detroit, Chris Sale knows he’s not entirely innocent.
The purpose may have been absent but the frustration was clearly present as Sale let his temper get the best of him.
For at least the second time this season, Sale was left to apologize for his frustration boiling over and resulting in a mistake pitch that nearly clipped Fielder’s chest.
While Sale is off to an outstanding start in his career and excels at most aspects when it comes to pitching, one area he realizes he still has room for growth is when it comes to how he handles frustration.
Sale said at the All-Star Game press conference on Monday he apologized to Fielder, his American League All-Star teammate, and Detroit and AL manager Jim Leyland last week.
He also knows he needs to adjust his approach.
“That’s a little bit of anger, adrenaline, mixed with just kind of being an idiot, too,” Sale said. “That’s just bad baseball pitching out of anger and frustration. Gameplan just goes out the window sometimes and you’re just like ‘Here it comes and it’s coming in hard.’ Sometimes you act foolish and foolish things happen. I’ve been burned twice by it.”
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Sale wasn’t happy with himself last Thursday.
Instead of talking about his first win in nearly two months, the two-time All-Star had to spend most of the postgame discussing a fifth-inning pitch to Fielder. Immediately after he allowed an opposite-field homer to Miguel Cabrera, Sale fired a 96-mph that nearly hit Fielder across the letters. The Tigers then retaliated in the next half-inning when reliever Luke Putkonen threw behind Alexei Ramirez. Both benches cleared and the teams argued but no punches were thrown.
Still, Sale knew he placed his teammate in harm’s way.
Earlier this season, Sale also hit Cleveland’s Michael Brantley with a pitch after he allowed a grand slam to Mark Reynolds. In that instance, Sale also apologized and said he didn’t mean to harm Brantley, but that in frustration he overthrew and a pitch got away.
Following Thursday’s game, neither Leyland nor Fielder spoke to the media about the incident.
Gordon Beckham understands their reaction because of the way the pitch looked. He knows Sale didn’t want to buzz Fielder. But Beckham has spoken to Sale and thinks his teammate needs to improve how he handles similar situations in the future.
“I really don’t think Chris meant to, I just think he was so frustrated he’s going to throw hard,” Beckham said. “I think, and he would agree with this, he needs to kind of reign it in a little bit when things don’t go the right way. It’s something he has talked about and he knows he gets frustrated. But it’s not frustration like, ‘I’m going to go hit the next guy,’ it’s more like ‘I’m mad at myself.’ He didn’t make a good pitch and it looked a lot worse than it was intended. I can understand why they were upset.”
Fellow All-Star Jesse Crain recalls having seen Sale’s temper off the field when the starter fired an iPhone against the dugout wall. By comparison, he thinks Sale is pretty mild-mannered when he’s on the mound. Though he agrees with Beckham’s sentiment of learning to handle his anger, Crain sees it as part of the learning curve.
“He’s a young kid and he has fire and you need to that to be a good pitcher in the major leagues,” Crain said. “For the most part he’s been pretty controlled out there. There’s only been a few times where it’s been pretty heated. … He’s learning every year.”
Sale sees it the same way.
He doesn’t like to be in the position he found himself in last Thursday. He has spoken at length with pitching coach Don Cooper and catcher Tyler Flowers about how he needs to settle down.
As long as he takes the lesson provided and puts it to use, Sale can live with that.
“This is always a learning process,” Sale said. “I’ll be learning until the day I’m done playing baseball and probably even after that. You have to take the good with the bad and learn from both of them.”