The Red Sox came into Thursday night looking to make sure Wednesday night’s game in Texas wasn’t a sign of things to come. The entire team, and most notably the offense, had been on fire over the previous week or so before getting shut down by Andrew Cashner. They had a much tougher battle on their hands against the young Jacob Faria in Tampa Bay in this game, but they still had to feel pretty good about getting back on track with Chris Sale on the mound.
For Sale’s part, the ace did pitch about as well as one could expect for most of this game, although he did make some uncharacteristic mistakes that the Rays were able to take advantage of.
We’ll start with the good, though, and that was his constant ability to rack up strikeouts. The lefty ended Thursday’s game with 11 strikeouts, giving him his twelfth game with at least 10 strikeouts, breaking Pedro Martinez’ pre-All-Star Game record. It was also his third double-digit strikeout game in three tries against Tampa Bay this season, and he now has 35 strikeouts in 20 innings of work against the Rays.
Early on, Sale was at his absolute best and showed anyone who cared to watch why he is almost certain to start next week’s All-Star Game for the American League. Over the first three innings he allowed just two singles and racked up a whopping seven strikeouts.
From there, things got a little more troublesome for the lefty as the Rays started to attack the Red Sox ace more aggressively early in counts to do more damage. In the fourth, he gave up a one-out single to Logan Morrison before allowing a double to Wilson Ramos that would knock in Tampa’s first run of the game. It was an RBI double that was certainly aided by the turf — the ball likely wouldn’t have gotten to the wall on normal grass — but it was undeniably hard contact.
Things got weirder for Sale in the fifth, when he started things off by hanging a slider to Peter Bourjos. Now, it goes without saying that you never want to hang a breaking ball against a major-league hitter, but the truth is Bourjos isn’t usually the guy who makes you pay for that kind of mistake. This time, he did and he gave the Rays their second run and first lead of the game on a solo shot out to left field. Tampa put the final beating on Sale in the sixth when Ramos, with Morrison on in front of him once again, absolutely obliterated a middle-in fastball to give Tampa a 4-1 lead.
That 4-1 lead seemed a lot larger than the three-run gap it was as the Red Sox were back to struggling against a starting pitcher. While Wednesday’s struggles against Cashner were incredibly frustrating given Texas’ pitchers lack of real knockout stuff, it was a little more understandable against Faria. Although the Rays’ starter doesn’t have a ton of major-league experience, he has some prospect pedigree and has been outstanding since being promoted.
After watching him on Wednesday, it’s not hard to see why. There were some issues with control throughout the start from Faria, as he walked four batters in six innings. He also didn’t have the wipeout stuff that you see from guys like, I don’t know, Sale, as Faria struck out only two Red Sox. However, he had outstanding command and didn’t give the Red Sox offense a lot of hittable pitches. It showed in their performance, because they didn’t really make any solid contact off the young righty and rarely threatened to do much damage.
The worst part of the game for the Red Sox offense came in the third at bat of the game. Faria’s lack of control was on display for a minute here as he hit Xander Bogaerts square in the hand with a fastball. The Red Sox shortstop would remain in the game for the rest of the inning, but he was removed shortly after. Fortunately, X-rays were negative and he is currently listed as day-to-day. Meanwhile, Boston did get two runners on in that inning but failed to score.
The one bit of success they had in this game was in the third, an inning that started off with a Tzu-Wei Lin walk. The newest sensation in the Red Sox infield made it over to third on a Dustin Pedroia single and was knocked in on a sacrifice fly from Deven Marrero, who replaced Bogaerts in the lineup.
Other than that, the offense was quiet all night long against both Faria and the Rays bullpen. Losing Bogaerts was a big blow, as Marrero just isn’t the caliber of hitter you expect to see in the middle of Boston’s lineup, even if he did knock in their only run and has been hitting better of late. No one’s struggles stood out more than Mookie Betts, though, who has been in a slump since his incredible day in Toronto on Sunday. On Thursday, Betts came up four times and popped out thrice and struck out once. The Red Sox need their leadoff hitter, best hitter and sparkplug to give them more than that.
It was not a fun game, but the Red Sox still hold a 3.5 game lead over the Yankees and a five game lead over the Rays. They’ll look to extend that on Friday with Drew Pomeranz on the bump in Tampa.