Chris Sale came into this game looking for his eighth consecutive outing with at least ten strikeouts, and more importantly was looking for a win to get this series in Oakland all evened up. For most of the game, it didn’t seem like that first part was going to happen. The A’s were making plenty of contact, and it looked like Sale would have an effective night without the Ks. He’s Chris Sale, though, so he still pulled it out.
The Athletics had a clear strategy against Sale: Swing early and swing often. This is a lineup that strikes out as much as just about any team in the league, and they were going to take any early pitch they could hit and just put it in play and hope for the best. Sale would strike out the first A’s batter of the game, then not get another until his second batter of the third inning. Despite that, he only allowed two base runners in that time and one of them was immediately eliminated by an inning-ending double play.
After allowing a leadoff double in the third, Sale started showing off his fastball and got four consecutive strikeouts. He wouldn’t really get into any trouble until the fifth — with a 2-0 lead — when he started to look slightly human. After a lineout to start the inning, he gave up a single followed by a triple that would score a run. The triple came on a blooper down the right field line on which Mookie Betts took a horrific route. He was never going to catch the ball, but he should have been able to cut it off and hold Mark Canha to a double and possibly prevent Ryon Healy from scoring. Alas, that didn’t happen, but Sale was able to get a strikeout and a flyout to strand Canha at third.
Things didn’t get much better in the sixth, though. After allowing two of the first three batters of the inning to reach on singles, he left a flat slider low and over the middle of the plate to Khris Davis. The right-handed slugger couldn’t take it out of the yard, but he did smash it into the gap and produced an RBI double with the swing. Once again, Sale was able to settle down with runners in scoring position and got two strikeouts to get out of the inning without any more runs being scored.
He’d come out for the seventh — his final frame of the night — and got two strikeouts to extend his double-digit strikeout streak.
Meanwhile, the pitcher on the other side was doing pretty well, too. Kendall Graveman certainly isn’t the same caliber of pitcher as Sale, but he was able to keep Boston off the board just as much as his counterpart in this one. Of course, some of that is on the Red Sox for not coming through in big spots.
In the first five innings, it was all about stranding runners. They stranded runners in scoring position three times in those first five innings, with the fifth being the most frustrating inning. In that frame, they got two quick outs then started a little rally. Dustin Pedroia reached on a well-placed infield single before Gravemen temporarily lost his control and issued two consecutive free passes to load the bases for Hanley Ramirez. The designated hitter couldn’t come through, hitting a grounder down the third base line on which Trevor Plouffe made a very impressive play to get the final out of the inning and get Oakland out of the jam without allowing a run.
In the early goings, there was but one positive inning for the Red Sox, and that was the fourth. Even this one appeared it was going to be frustrating, as a leadoff double from Bogaerts had been followed up with two strikeouts. Then, Mitch Moreland took a fastball left middle-in and demolished it into the seats in right field to put Boston on the board and give them a 2-0 lead. That would be the only offense off Graveman for the day.
To give credit where it’s due, Graveman certainly showed flashes in this game. The Red Sox got their base runners -- and they have to do a better job of driving them in -- but Gravemen did a good job keeping the ball low. His cutter was particularly impressive as he pounded the glove-side corner of the plate with that offering.
All of this brought us to a bullpen matchup to end things, with the game tied 2-2 in the late innings. The Red Sox struggled in their first few chances against Ryan Madson and Liam Hendriks, both of whom tossed a scoreless inning while allowing one base runner.
A’s closer Santiago Casilla came out for the ninth, and the Sox put up a bit of a fight. After Sandy Leon got on with a one-out single, John Farrell subbed in Christian Vazquez on the base paths and Josh Rutledge came up to hit for Deven Marrero. The move worked out well enough, with Rutledge hitting a line drive single and Vazquez taking the extra base to put a runner on third with one out. Of course, as things have generally gone this year, frustration followed. Betts ripped a line drive in the next at bat, but it was hit right at Plouffe at third base for the second out. Pedroia ended things with a groundout, leaving the game tied.
That brings us to the bottom of the ninth, where the play of the year happened. After two quick outs from Craig Kimbrel, it looked like Boston’s closer made a crucial mistake and gave up the walk off to Ryon Healy. Instead, Jackie Bradley did Jackie Bradley things.
That ended the inning and gave the Red Sox another chance to score. Unfortunately, they couldn’t plate a run in the tenth — again leaving a runner in scoring position — and Heath Hembree came in and allowed a walk off home run to Canha to end the game and give the Red Sox their second consecutive loss.
It was yet another frustrating day for the offense, as they had their chances against a solid A’s pitching staff but couldn’t come through with the final hit to put it away. Sale could have been better, I suppose, but you can’t pin this on him, either. Even when he was hittable at times, he kicked his stuff up in important moments and gave the offense more than enough breathing room to win. The Red Sox will look to salvage a split in this series with a couple of 4:00 PM games over the next two days.