Chris Sale did Chris Sale things for much of the game before hitting a rough patch, but the offense was able to pick up the inconsistent pitching staff to give the Red Sox a series win in Minnesota.
To start the game, Sale was the same dominating Sale we’ve gotten used to. His first time through the order, he struck out seven of nine Twins and allowed just one to reach base. By the time the third inning had ended, he had those seven strikeouts and allowed just a hit and a walk. It continued a trend of Sale being dominant in the first third of the game. Through his first seven starts, Sale has 40 strikeouts and 3 walks with a 0.43 ERA in the first three innings of the game.
The only difference between this start of Sale Day and the typical start of Sale Day is that the offense actually backed up their ace with some runs. Against Ervin Santana — who had clearly pitched over his head to start the year but remains a solid pitcher — the Red Sox continued to tap into the power that had been missing for much of April.
It got started in the second at bat of the game, when Dustin Pedroia took a fastball up and in and launched it on a line into the seats in left field. Tip for pitchers: Don’t throw Pedroia fastballs up and in. After hitting Bogaerts with a pitch in the next at bat, Santana made another mistake. This time, he threw a fastball belt-high on the inner half of the plate to Benintendi, and the rookie crushed it to left field. It ended up reaching the fans who were still entering the stadium through the gates and continued Benintendi’s absurdly impressive rookie campaign.
Just like that, the Red Sox had a 3-0 lead before Sale had even taken the mound. After that, Santana settled down a bit and started to look like the pitcher he had been early in the year. He wasn’t totally dominating the lineup, allowing a base runner in two of the next three innings, but there weren’t any rallies coming from the Red Sox. Then, to start the fifth, he left a fastball right down the heart of the plate for Mookie Betts, and Betts didn’t miss it. It wasn’t a majestic shot, but rather a scorched line drive that was just barely high enough to clear the fence and extend Boston’s lead to four.
It was at this point that Sale started to look a little shaky, although what happened on the bottom of the fifth certainly can’t all be put on the pitcher’s shoulders. After cruising through the first four, Sale allowed the first two batters to reach on a hit by pitch and a soft single to left field. After that, Byron Buxton dropped a bunt that Deven Marrero couldn’t handle to load the bases. It was a tough play that rightfully went as a hit rather than an error, but Marrero was theoretically in the lineup for his glove. If he’s not making those plays, I’m not sure why he’s playing at all.
From there, the Twins got a sac fly to get them their first run of the game and a walk to load the bases. After a single scored two more to bring Minnesota within one, they got two runners in scoring position due to a lazy passed ball courtesy of Sandy Leon. Miguel Sano would draw a walk to load the bases yet again before a sac fly finally tied the game. A strikeout mercifully ended the frame with the game still tied.
Like I said, it wasn’t all Sale’s fault. There was a lot of soft contact, and between Marrero and Leon his defense let him down a bit. He also got squeezed on a few calls that could have ended the inning earlier. On the other hand, he also couldn’t quite put away any Twins, allowing too many two-strike foul balls. Additionally, he lost his control a bit. Overall, it was simply a bad inning all around.
Fortunately, the game didn’t stay tied for long. Santana remained in the game for Minnesota and started things off with a four-pitch walk to Hanley Ramirez. After getting two quick outs, it looked like he could avoid letting the run come around. Instead, Leon made up for his passed ball by putting a changeup into the first row of the seats in right field. That gave the Red Sox a 6-4 lead with all of their runs coming via the long ball.
Despite being up near 100 pitches after his rough fifth inning, Sale would come back out and throw an easy 1-2-3 sixth to preserve the lead, and from there it was up to the bullpen. Heath Hembree got the seventh and got through it with just one softy hit single.
After the Red Sox added another in the top of the eighth — and they could have scored more but Marrero hit into a double play with the bases loaded to end the inning — Matt Barnes came in for the eighth and promptly allowed a solo home run to Kennys Vargas. To be fair to Barnes, it wasn’t really a bad pitch, as Vargas just muscled a changeup at the bottom of the strike zone. It would only get worse from there, as two consecutive innings ended the day for Barnes before he could even record an out.
From there, Robby Scott came in to face the left-handed Eddie Rosario, who would square to bunt with runners on first and second. After seeing that on the first pitch, rather than throwing him a fastball Scott decided to try and sneak a breaking ball by him and threw it in the dirt and behind Leon. That allowed the runners to advance a base, and Rosario would come through with a sacrifice fly to bring Minnesota within one and force Craig Kimbrel to come in with one out in the eighth and a runner on third. Luckily, Kimbrel is amazing and got two strikeouts to strand the runner at third and preserve the lead.
With the lead down to just one, the offense decided that was no fun and put together a merciless rally against Twins pitching. Boston would score ten in the top of the ninth to put the game completely out of reach.
This is a game that was much closer than the final score would indicate, with some inconsistent pitching throughout. Sale was mostly good, with one rough inning that wasn’t really his fault. The offense was the story, getting contributions from everyone (except Marrero), including a couple homers from Leon and four walks from Ramirez. Let’s hope tomorrow’s day off doesn’t cool these bats off.