The Red Sox backed up a dominant outing from Jon Lester at the last possible moment, scoring two runs in the ninth to secure consecutive wins for the first time since April 2nd and 3rd against the Orioles.
More than anything, this game represented a return to competence for the Boston Red Sox. That might seem a strange thing to say given that it took them until the sixth inning to get a hit, but some adjustments must be made to expectations when Chris Sale is on the mound. The young lefty was erratic at times, but consistently electric. Rather than pounding the zone, Sale danced around it expertly, keeping the Red Sox off-balance when they weren't simply overpowered.
For all that Sale was able to pile up 10 strikeouts, however, the Red Sox were actually doing some reasonable work against him, all things considered. David Ortiz would have had a first-inning homer had Adam Eaton not made an incredible leaping grab on his rocket to center. This wasn't one of those "robberies" that would have bounced off the wall--it was gone, and Eaton brought it back.
More important than sending warning shots, the Red Sox were making Sale work for his outs like they were famous for in 2013. Sale would end up going seven innings, but he needed 127 pitches to get there, and towards the end the fatigue showed. Most notably his 95th pitch: a 1-0 92 MPH fastball to Xander Bogaerts. The sound off the bat was perfection, and the 444 foot bomb it came from was a worthy end to Sale's no-hit bid.
The lead, sadly, would not last long. To that point, Jon Lester had been just as untouchable as Sale, except he'd been doing his work efficiently, allowing not a single baserunner through sixteen batters faced. That ended on a well-placed ground ball from Tyler Flowers that a diving Xander Bogaerts could only deflect (it was a guaranteed single either way). Daniel Nava's defensive deficiencies showed as Leury Garcia hit a long ground-rule double to right field that Shane Victorino may well have gotten under. But, while Lester could not keep the game-tying run out, he did manage to minimize the damage, keeping the White Sox from taking a lead by striking out Marcus Semien with Garcia on third.
Had Sale managed to match Lester inning-for-inning, the White Sox may have kept this game going into extras for the second straight night. Instead, they had to turn to Ronald Belisario in the eighth, and eventually to try to stretch him into the ninth. The latter gambit failed. It was a weak bleeder to third from Mike Napoli that would get Belisario into trouble with one down in the final frame. Mike Carp followed up with a louder single to left, bringing David Ross to the plate. The backup catcher fell behind 0-2, but managed to get the bat on the ball first for a foul, and then for a sharp ground ball past Paul Konerko at first and into the right field corner, bringing home the go-ahead run. A perfect bunt from Jonathan Herrera would make it 3-1 before Jackie Bradley suffered a tough-luck line drive double play to end the inning.
Koji Uehara, it must be said, was not his usual self. Pitching for the first time in better than a week, the usually impeccable closer did not have the usual movement on his splitter, and was throwing it awfully high. That being said, he surrendered only a single to Alexei Ramirez, getting Jose Abreu to ground out to end the game.
It was not an entirely pretty win thanks to Chris Sale's excellence. It was, however, one largely free of embarrassment at the plate, on the mound, and in the field. The Red Sox actually looked like a competent baseball team tonight, and dare I say actually looked like the Red Sox the way they managed to work Chris Sale's pitch count. It's too soon to make any conclusions about them heading in the right direction, but if they manage to start putting together some wins, this more than Wednesday's game will be the real starting point.