Instead of waiting for the real Chris Sale, maybe we should redefine what that means

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We've recycled the phrase since his first start, but it has grown as stale as his fastball. Perhaps it's time to stop waiting for "the real Chris Sale."

Maybe we're looking at him.

On Sunday, Sale delivered another flawed outing in a 5-2 loss to the Rays that dropped the Red Sox to 11-17 and Sale to 0-5. He probably deserved slightly better -- he limited Tampa to four hits and two earned runs while striking out eight over seven innings -- but let's not get carried away. He pitched well enough to take a no-decision instead of another L.

He allowed a two-run homer in the first to a batter who hadn't left the park since last July, and he compounded a Rafael Devers error by serving up a two-run triple with two outs an inning later. His fastball, briefly back in the 95-97 mph range a couple of starts ago, slipped back to 91-92, and Sale once again didn't trust it. Nearly half of his 111 pitches were sliders.

At this time last year, Sale was 2-1 with a 2.31 ERA and the Red Sox had won four of his six starts. Now he's winless with a 6.30 ERA and the Red Sox are 0-6 when he takes the mound.

If there's a positive, it's that Sale settled down and limited Tampa to one hit over his final five innings, but by that point the damage had been done. Six starts into the season, Sale has run out of things to say.

"I keep saying the same things over and over, but it's a step in the right direction," Sale told reporters. "I know nobody wants to hear that. I'd love to be sitting up here talking about wins and all of that, but at the end of the day, you've got to do what you've got to do and I'm grinding. I'm trying to find a way. It doesn't matter what I show up with on a given day. It doesn't matter where our team is at or who we're facing or who's in the box, whatever. Got to find a way to win. It's kind of the double-edged sword of this game. It's fun when you're on one side but it kind of sucks when you're on the other side of it, so you've just got to do what you've got to do to get on the right side and keep winning games."

That 4-0 hole on Sunday proved insurmountable against overpowering Rays right-hander Tyler Glasnow, who featured an upper-90s fastball while striking out nine and limiting the Red Sot to two runs over 6.2 innings. He looked more like Sale than Sale.

Unfortunately, that guy has been missing in action since last July, and while it's too soon to say he's not coming back, it's clearly time to be concerned.

"I'm sitting here like a broken record," Sale said. "What am I, six starts in? I've sucked every bit of every last one of them. I don't want to sit here and say the same things over and over, but hopefully sooner rather than later. That's for damn sure. Like I said, this is a result-oriented game. No one cares about the hard work. No one cares about the effort. We've got to start winning games. I appreciate the effort. I appreciate the hard work, and I know on the other end of that comes success, but we've got to find a way."

With the Red Sox just two games out of last place, Sale deserves a large portion of the blame. Had he produced at even last April's level, the Red Sox would be at least 15-13, and probably even better, since he wouldn't have killed the bullpen with a series of four- and five-inning starts.

The Red Sox haven't seen that Sale in a while, but baseball can be cruel that way.

"I mean it's a love-hate relationship," Sale said. "I've loved this game for the same reason I hate it. Today is one of those days where, don't give up a two-run homer in the first inning, maybe we've got a chance, or you find your groove a little bit earlier, or this or that, whatever. I've got to find a way. I've got to find a way."

He's still searching and we're still waiting, and it's enough to make you wonder exactly who the real Chris Sale is, anyway.

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