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Red Sox 2, Rays 1: Chris Sale strikes out 12, takes my breath away

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There are no words for Chris Sale.

Tampa Bay Rays v Boston Red Sox

Yesterday was supposed to be the pitchers’ duel in this series, but today was the game that lived up that billing. Chris Sale took the mound for the Red Sox and did his typical Chris Sale thing. The Rays had to lean heavily on their bullpen, but they were up to the task for the vast majority of the game.

There’s little reason to ever worry when Sale takes the mound, and he made sure we knew that was still the case in this one when he started off the contest by striking out Steven Souza with one of his wicked sliders. This particular one was of the backdoor variety and it just got over the outside corner at the last second. It was unfair. Sale followed that up by inducing two weak pop ups, and it was an easy 1-2-3 inning for Boston’s ace, and a nice little preview for what was to come for the lanky southpaw.

Odorizzi also had a nice start of his game, although it wasn’t quite as nice as Sale’s. It started with a single from Dustin Pedroia, but he’d be stranded there. Andrew Benintendi, Mookie Betts and Hanley Ramirez all flew out to end the inning, but there was at least some hard contact in there.

Sale cruised through the second inning as well, although he did allow one hit. To be fair, that hit wasn’t a real hit because Betts lost a ball in the sun. It’s probably a 1-2-3 inning if this game was played after nightfall.

Odorizzi came out to start the second, but he wouldn’t be there long. He threw just one pitch to Mitch Moreland before feeling something in his hamstring and calling upon the trainer. Odorizzi tossed a couple of warmup pitches, but he still didn’t feel good so the Rays had to call on their bullpen far earlier than they had planned to. Erasmo Ramirez was who they chose, and his very first pitch was a mistake. He threw a fastball up in the zone to Moreland who hit his first homer in a Red Sox uniform, sending the ill-advised pitch deep into the seats in the right field corner. Boston finally had some early runs for Sale, and they were facing a Rays bullpen that was not expecting to be in the game at this point. It looked like they might finally start to roll.

Except...they didn’t. They’d go down in order to finish off the second after Moreland’s home run, and Ramirez cruised through the rest of his outing. He’d set the Red Sox down in order in the third, and while he allowed a double to Moreland in the fourth there was no other damage done. He’d throw one more inning in the fifth, and once again he’d allow one base runner — this time it was Chris Young on an infield single — but no damage would come of it.

Luckily for Boston, Sale was still doing Sale things. Unluckily for Boston, he didn’t quite do those Sale things in the third. He started off the inning with a walk to Kevin Kiermaier, which is already shocking to see from Sale. After striking out Tim Beckham in the next at bat, he allowed a single to Souza to put two runners on. After striking out Peter Bourjos, Evan Longoria came through with a single through the middle and just like that the game was tied. It wasn’t over yet, though. Sale walked another batter to load the bases, and it looked like the Rays might get after another one of Boston’s best arms. Instead, Sale struck out Derek Norris and the game would remain tied.

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Boston Red Sox Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

From there, the southpaw reverted back to the ace we all know and already love. He’d walk another in the fourth, but quickly erased that by stabbing a comeback liner and doubling off the runner at first base. He then struck out the side in the fifth and started off the sixth with two more to give him five consecutive strikeouts. In the end, he’d get through seven innings with twelve strikeouts, but when he left the mound after the top of the seventh the game was still tied at one.

The Red Sox wouldn’t let it stay that way for long, though. With Tommy Hunter now in the game for Tampa and entering his second inning of work, Boston’s offense got to work. Moreland led off the inning with a single through the middle, putting him a triple shy of the cycle. After Xander Bogaerts came through with a single of his own, the Red Sox had two on and nobody out. If they were going to get Sale a win, this was going to be the chance. Pablo Sandoval was up next and hit a grounder to first base. The good news is there was no shot at a double play. The bad news is Bogaerts was out at second, putting runners on the corners with one out. That brought up Young, who drew a big walk in a tough at bat to load the bases. Hunter was then taken out of the game, and curiously he was replaced by Xavier Cedeno, a lefty. It was curious because Sandy Leon was coming up, and he’s crushed left-handed pitchers over the last couple of years. It wasn’t quite the Leon magic we’ve gotten used to, but the catcher hit a weak grounder to second that was so weakly hit that the only play was at first base. Moreland came in to score, and the Red Sox finally had a lead. They couldn’t add any more, but at least they were giving Sale a shot at a W.

With the ace done for the day with 111 pitches, Matt Barnes came on for the eighth inning. He’d certainly earned this role with the way he’s pitched in the early going, but he made it scary in this one. He started off with an impressive strikeout against the pinch-hitting Brad Miller on a high fastball, but then suddenly lost his control. He walked Souza, then allowed another free pass to Corey Dickerson on four pitches. After two quick balls to Longoria to start the next at bat, everyone was naturally worried about what was coming next. Fortunately, what came next was a ground ball to Sandoval who was able to start an inning-ending 5-4-3 double play. It wasn’t the prettiest of outings, but Barnes preserved the lead.

After the lineup went down 1-2-3 in the eighth against Jumbo Diaz, it was Craig Kimbrel coming on to try and shut the door with a one-run lead. This time, there was no fear to be had. He struck out Rickie Weeks and Norris, both on curveballs, to start the inning before getting Logan Morrison to ground out and end the game and give the Red Sox the 2-1 win.

The offense still has some work to do, but when Sale is on the mound only two runs are needed. They did enough, and their ace was magnificent. Sale Day is quickly becoming one of the most exciting days of the week, and there’s no sign that this will change any time soon.

Also, Betts did not strike out in this one and is up to 114 plate appearances in his streak.

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