Chris Sale admits to flat-out stinking as Red Sox reality turns bleaker

The goal must be to pass back the Rivalry Envy that plagued the Red Sox for some 86 years, only to switch over to The Bronx for most of the past 14-plus.

Yet if that Yankees quest commences with baby steps, then Tuesday night had to feel sweet. For as banged up as these Yankees are, they look nowhere as messed up as baseball’s defending champions.

Most notably, the Red Sox’s ace, a man on whom the Yankees memorably passed three years ago, sounded more despondent than Lori Loughlin at a college crew race.

“I’ve got to find a way to pitch better,” Chris Sale said Tuesday night, after the Yankees knocked around him and his relief help for an 8-0 win at Yankee Stadium, with Sale’s counterpart James Paxton throwing a gem. “This is flat-out embarrassing. For my family, for my team, for our fans. This is as bad as it gets.”

It’s worse than anyone could have imagined, right? In the 2019 Rivalry opener, and in the Red Sox’s first visit here since they eliminated the Yankees in the 2018 American League Division Series, the Sawx fell to 6-12, giving them sole occupancy of the AL East basement even though the Orioles and Blue Jays, both 7-11, are definitively rebuilding.

“You keep working,” said manager Alex Cora, who then repeated: “You keep working. We have a talented group. We want to get going sooner than later. We keep preaching what we preach.”

It’s falling on a largely deaf audience, and though a handful of everyday players have struggled — reigning AL Most Valuable Player Mookie Betts owns a lousy .212/.321/.394 slash line — the primary blame falls on the starting rotation. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Red Sox starting pitchers have posted a 7.18 ERA in 18 games, the highest through this juncture in franchise history, surpassing the 6.96 posted by the 1931 club.

Sale, who has placed between second and sixth in the previous seven AL Cy Young Award ballots, owns an 8.50 ERA that actually decreased after Tuesday’s effort — when he permitted four runs on seven hits with a walk and six strikeouts in five innings.

“It’s as frustrated as I’ve ever been on a baseball field,” Sale said. He added, “It sucks. I’m not gonna sugarcoat it. I flat out stink right now. I don’t know what it is. When you’re going good, it’s good. When you’re going bad, it’s pretty bad.”

Cora offered that Sale’s velocity did improve notably, from an average fastball of 91.3 mph in his first three starts (thanks, FanGraphs) to as high as 98 mph, with an occasionally effective slider, too.

“He’s getting closer to the guy that we know he can be,” Cora said.

Asked if he agreed with his manager’s optimism, Sale said, “You’d better [bleeping] hope so.”

Cora doesn’t buy into the Hangover Effect, the notion that defending champions suffer after the physical and emotional toil of winning it all.

“In my case, I always say we’ve all been in the hangover part of it, and it’s not because we won a championship,” Cora said. “It’s because we had a few extra pops the night before.”

Well, if it’s not that, and if they’re largely healthy — unlike the Yankees — then something’s going on. Their switching of catchers, as they designated Blake Swihart for assignment and recalled Sandy Leon from Triple-A Pawtucket, led to another poor Sale outing and a Leon throwing error and 0-for-3 effort at the plate.

“Take a look at the back of their bubble-gum card, and that’s where they usually end up,” Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said, crediting an unnamed baseball sage who came up with that before we eschewed bubble-gum cards in favor of “Our guys, a lot of them have a way to go.”

No one more than Sale, who just signed a five-year, $145 million extension and who had never allowed more than three earned runs at the Stadium in seven previous starts here.

For once, the Yankees didn’t need to envy the lanky left-hander, Given their own problems? They’ll settle for that slight a victory right now.

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