We were promised a pitcher’s duel for this series finale against the Tigers, and that’s exactly what we got. Unfortunately, the Red Sox were the ones who went home disappointed despite their ace having the better day.
It was Justin Verlander vs. Chris Sale on Monday, and things got off to about the kind of start that you’d expect. After a 36-minute rain delay, that is. When things finally got going, both teams quietly went 1-2-3 in the first inning.
In the second, the Red Sox lineup was able to get a little something going off Verlander, who wasn’t quite looking like himself in the early going. The frame was started by a strong double from Mitch Moreland, who has been on fire of late. After that, Pablo Sandoval drew a walk (I know, it was insane) and Chris Young reached on an error by Nick Castellanos. It wasn’t a routine play as it was hit hard and kind of ate him up, but he still should have made it. That loaded the bases for Brock Holt, who grounded into a 4-6-3 double play. Moreland did score, but it likely prevented a bigger inning. Sandy Leon finished the inning with a lineout to Castellanos, stranding Sandoval at third and limiting the damage to just one run in the inning.
Meanwhile, Sale just kept doing Sale things. He would cruise through the first five innings of the game, allowing a double to Andrew Romine in the third that represented the only baserunner the Tigers would have in the first five. Other than that, he retired fourteen of fifteen batters including six strikeouts. He was dealing, but the Red Sox couldn’t give him more than one run of support.
Part of that was because Verlander is an outstanding pitcher, even if he didn’t have his best stuff. The Red Sox made solid contact at least once in each of the first few innings, but they couldn’t string much together except for that second inning. They got one baserunner in the third on a Dustin Pedroia single and one in the fourth on another double from Moreland, but both ended up being stranded.
Part of that fourth inning included a strikeout of Sandoval, but before strike three Verlander threw a borderline pitch that was called a ball. It seemed to fire up the Tiger’s ace, and he let the umpire know it. They got into it a little bit, but the incident served as a turning point for Verlander. After that double for Moreland, he retired 12 of 13, a run that carried him through the rest of his seven-inning outing.
In the meantime, the Tigers finally got a mistake from Sale and they took full advantage. Right in the middle of the lefty dealing at the highest level — he started off the sixth with two straight dominant strikeouts -- Sale left a changeup right in the heart of the zone for Ian Kinsler. Detroit’s second baseman took full advantage, depositing it into the left field seats to tie the game at one.
The Red Sox would get into the Tigers’ bullpen to start the eighth, and generally speaking that is the time to do damage against that team. It didn’t work out that way on Monday, though. They did get one base runner in the eighth against Justin Wilson in the form of a walk from Andrew Benintendi, but that was all they would get there, with Marco Hernandez, Pedroia and Mookie Betts all hitting into outs.
Then, the bottom of the eighth happened. Sale was still in the game for the Red Sox, as he had been quite efficient for the entirety of the game. Things started off just fine, too. After Jose Iglesias flew out to right field and JaCoby Jones was blown away by a high fastball, Sale just needed one more out to give the Red Sox lineup another chance in a tie game. Instead, he allowed another double to Andrew Romine, who served as something of a Red Sox killer during this series. It was a grounder down the third base line that could have possibly been stopped by Holt to hold Romine to a single, but it took a bad bounce right over Holt’s glove. After a walk to Kinsler — Sale’s first and only of the game — Castellanos came through with a big single through the left side to score the go-ahead run. It actually could have been worse, too, as Holt muffed the cutoff throw and blew a chance to get Kinsler at third to end the inning. Instead, the eighth continued with Sale being taken out for Heath Hembree, who had the pleasure of facing Miguel Cabrera. Hembree came through, though, inducing a flyout to right and keeping the deficit to one.
The Red Sox couldn’t pull off another comeback in the ninth. Moreland did lead things off with a single through the shift, but that was all they’d do against Francisco Rodriguez in the ninth. Sandoval struck out, Young hit into a fielder’s choice that cut down pinch runner Steve Selsky on the way to second base, and Holt struck out to end the game.
Overall, this was the kind of game that sucks while you’re watching it. Sale was just too good to take a loss today. He struck out ten batters while walking just one in his 7 2⁄3 innings of work and he really just made the one mistake to Kinsler. Obviously, the offense was to blame for this one. The good news is that both Hanley Ramirez and Xander Bogaerts should be returning soon, which will give the lineup a boost. Eventually, Sale is going to get the run support he deserves. Unfortunately, that trend did not start on Monday and it led to Boston dropping three of four in Detroit.