Isn’t it great when a plan comes together? The Red Sox, with the Yankees continuing their recent horrible stretch of baseball, had a chance at sole possession of first place in the American League East. All they needed was to, ya know, win the game. To do that they were going to need a better offensive performance than what they’ve put forth of late, and in particular better than what they’ve given Chris Sale over the course of the season. Well, they did so, and they got yet another ace performance from Sale. It was a great win all around.
We’ll start with Sale, because what is more fun than watching and talking about this guy? There’s not a whole lot of insight to give here beyond saying Chris Sale is really freaking good. That’s news to everyone reading this, I’m sure.
What’s a little interesting is that, at least at first, it didn’t seem like it was going to be a huge strikeout game for the southpaw. For as poorly as the Royals have performed this season, one thing they will do is make contact early in counts. This is an extremely aggressive team, which can lead to plenty of weak contact, but not a lot of strikeouts. Sure enough, that was the case for Sale as he “only” had three strikeouts through his first four innings and didn’t have more than a single K in any one frame. Of course, just when we were starting to come to realize this was simply going to be a good performance without the strikeouts Sale went out and struck out the side in the fifth. Ho hum. He’d finish with ten Ks in 8 1⁄3 innings.
Beyond the strikeouts, it was a whole lot of weak contact and lack of rallies. In the entire start, Sale made but two mistakes, and the Royals took advantage of them. That mistake came in the bottom half of the second when he left a fastball over the heart of the plate to Future Red Sox* Mike Moustakas and he smashed it over the right field wall. At that point, Boston’s offense hadn’t gotten going and that homer gave the Royals their first and only lead of the game.
*Title may not be 100% accurate.
The other mistake came in the ninth when the Red Sox had already jumped out to an 8-1 lead (more on that in a second). At that point, Sale was starting to lose his command a little bit and walked his first batter of the game. After that, he hung a slider to Jorge Bonifacio and the rookie crushed it to left-center field to cut the Kansas City deficit to five.
Overall, it was the kind of start we have come to expect from Sale. The rotation has been somewhat shaky of late, with Hector Velazquez pitching well on Monday but David Price and Rick Porcello struggling and Drew Pomeranz putting up a wildly inconsistent performance night-to-night. Boston needs their ace pitching like an ace, and fortunately Sale is up to the task.
Meanwhile, the offense finally broke out after almost a week of mostly lackluster performances. They were going up against Matt Strahm, who has spent most of his major-league career as a reliever but is a talented young arm. Sure enough, it looked like it was going to be another rough night for the offense early on. They got runners to first base in each of the first two innings, but couldn’t advance them beyond that.
Then, they finally started to get going in the third after they fell down 1-0 on the Moustakas home run. Things started because of a big hit from Deven Marrero of all people, as the recent call-up doubled on a liner down the first base line. Mookie Betts made the best of his opportunity with a runner in scoring position by hitting a little bloop that fell between everyone in center field. Marrero made a good read off the bat and realized quickly it would fall, allowing him to score easily. Just like that, the game was tied at one.
The next inning was when the Red Sox really broke out. As I mentioned above, Strahm had primarily been a reliever this year, and thus hadn’t gone above 68 pitches prior to this outing. He entered the fourth just eight pitches shy of that mark, and he threw like someone who was tiring. After Jackie Bradley led things off with a single, another recent call-up in Sam Travis smashed a double off the left field wall and Bradley came all the way around to score and give Boston a lead. From there, Josh Rutledge reached on an infield single, both Rutledge and Travis advanced on a wild pitch and Sandy Leon knocked both in with a double. Leon would then move over to third on yet another wild pitch before scoring on a sacrifice fly from Marrero. All of a sudden, the Red Sox had a 5-1 lead in the blink of an eye and sent the Royals to their bullpen before they even got through four innings.
They added more in the sixth, again thanks to unlikely producers. This time, the rally started with a single from Leon and a walk from Marrero, and after Betts couldn’t come through Chris Young smacked a double to score Leon. A single from Xander Bogaerts would knock in two more and give the Red Sox an 8-1 lead.
It was an all-around win from the Red Sox on Tuesday. They got great pitching from their ace. They got great defense, particularly in an infield that hasn’t always been blessed with great glove work this year. They took the extra base whenever possible. And, perhaps most importantly, the offense got going and got production from some unlikely sources. They’ll need to do it for more than one night, but for this one night it was spectacular.
First place and it feels so good.