HOUSTON -- Red Sox ace Chris Sale had waited his entire baseball life to taste the thrill of pitching in the Major League Baseball postseason. Now that it finally happened, what Sale wants more than anything is redemption.
Sale was disgusted with the way he pitched in Thursday's 8-2 loss to the Astros in Game 1 of the American League Division Series presented by Doosan at Minute Maid Park, and it will be a long winter for him if it is his only start in the series.
"I've just got to be better," said Sale. "No excuses. Bad time to suck."
It went bad fast for Sale. The lefty served up back-to-back homers to Alex Bregman and Jose Altuve (three homers on the day) in the bottom of the first inning to get the home crowd into a frenzy.
"Made bad pitches to good hitters," said Sale. "I can't do that, especially early on. Like I said, I put my guys in a pretty bad hole early on. That's not an easy place to come back from, especially on the road."
And when the Red Sox grinded back against Justin Verlander to tie it at 2 in the top of the fourth, Sale let it slip away in the bottom of the fourth.
"Never really gave my team a chance to win, I put 'em in a hole early," said Sale. "They fought back and they fought back hard, and I gave it right back to them. It happens, obviously. Not a good time for it to happen. Take it on the chin, come back tomorrow ready to rock."
If the Red Sox can bounce back and avoid being swept out of the postseason for the second straight year, Sale can get another chance to pitch. That could come as early as Game 4 on three days' of rest.
Though he's never pitched on short rest in his career, Sale is more than willing to do so in this series.
"I'm available whenever they tell me to," said Sale.
However, given how Sale has pitched down the stretch, it's debatable whether pitching him on short rest is the right strategy.
In Sale's first 24 starts with the Red Sox this season, he went 14-4 with a 2.51 ERA. In his last nine starts, he is 3-5 with a 5.12 ERA. Over that span, he's allowed 14 home runs.
"It's got to be [poor location]," said Sale. "Obviously more times than not, good pitches don't go over the fence. Just tighten up some loose ends and get back after it. Don't think for one second this team is going to give up. We've got to keep fighting. This one is on me. I take full responsibility for this one. We've got 24 other guys in here that are going to grind [it out] tomorrow and even this thing up."
Sale was at 46 pitches through the first two innings.
"We have to find the balance of how aggressive to be against him and try to stay in the strike zone," said Astros manager A.J. Hinch. "We didn't chase a ton today, which is a staple of when Sale is really good, he shows you flashes of strikes but makes you chase balls out of the zone, and I thought our discipline was pretty well done."
One of the most troubling parts of the outing for Sale is that he gave up three home runs after giving up four in his final start of the regular season.
The radar readings show that Sale still has plenty of life on his fastball. He threw a 98.7-mph pitch on Thursday and averaged 95.2 mph with his four-seamer. But velocity doesn't matter against a team like the Astros when the pitch is in the heart of the plate.
What did manager John Farrell spot from the dugout?
"At times he would get a little flat," Farrell said. "You saw where he wasn't as downhill with probably all three pitches at times. But then he would throw a good number of pitches where it was typical of what the way Chris would deliver the pitch. But I thought today, again, it was a couple times when things got flat and they made him pay."
When the Red Sox clinched the AL East on the second-to-last game of the regular season, it meant Sale could skip his last start. He entered Game 1 on seven days' rest. The hope was that the extra rest would enable Sale to pitch more like he did in his dominant run through mid-August.
"He had a good aggressive bullpen [session] on Monday with two full days off following that," said Farrell. "We felt like the additional days were needed. And today wasn't a matter of strike throwing. It was command within the strike zone. That was the difference. Walked one guy on the day. But to say that we would have done anything different, no."
The Red Sox can only hope Sale gets another chance -- one that has an entirely different outcome.
Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.