This was a pretty tense game all the way through for the Red Sox, even though all of the action was kind of bunched up for both teams. The Blue Jays had a lot of early success against Chris Sale, who was weirdly off his game in terms of swing-and-miss stuff tonight. He’d settle in a bit and the Red Sox offense got started at right about the same time. If we’re being honest there was nothing super impressive from either team in any area in this game, but the Red Sox offense got a big three-run homer from J.D. Martinez and they got a solid bend-but-don’t-break performance from their bullpen and it was enough for a win. At the end of a long road trip that got relatively ugly towards the end, they’ll take wins where ever they can get them.
It’s been kind of a weird season for Sale since it started, and tonight may have been the weirdest start. He’s gotten phenomenal results, but it just seems like something has been missing every time he’s taken the mound. On Thursday night, it was the strikeout stuff, which is super unlike the Red Sox ace. Even when we’ve seen Sale clearly not at his best he’s been able to generate whiffs. He did get some strikeouts here and there tonight, but there were a weird number of instances in which Blue Jays hitters got to two-strike counts and were able to fight off pitch after pitch to continue the inning.
Things were particularly concerning for Sale early on, as the Blue Jays were able to get something in each of the first three innings. The first inning rally got started with a one-out walk followed by a little bloop single into right field. It’s worth noting that Martinez was in right field tonight and this hit looked like one that Mookie Betts would catch on most days, but it’s not fair to hold Martinez to the impossible standard that is Mookie. Sale then had a slider get away from him to hit Yangervis Solarte and all of a sudden the bases were loaded. Typically, this is when the ace would dig in and get a big strikeout or two, but today Kevin Pillar was able to lift a ball deep enough to score a run and give Toronto an early 1-0 lead.
The second and third inning struggles were very similar and came on one swing apiece. In the second, Sale left a fat low-90s fastball right down the middle of the plate to Devon Travis. The struggling second baseman would not miss it, sending it to the second deck in left field. 2-0 Toronto. In the third it was Justin Smoak. This time, Sale hung a slider and while it wasn’t crushed it did sneak right over the wall for the Blue Jays’ second homer in as many inning to give them three runs in the first three innings against Chris Sale.
Meanwhile, the early innings were a breeze for Toronto starter Marco Estrada. The Blue Jays righty had struggled a bit coming into the game, but he had his changeup working early and the Red Sox couldn’t touch it. They did get a single in the first, but that was it and then they struck out in all three at bats in the second.
It was only 2-0 heading into the top of the third, but it sure felt like it was worse than that with the juxtaposition between the two pitchers. Fortunately, the Red Sox got going a bit in this inning. It started with a Brock Holt double as the utility man stayed red hot, but unfortunately he pulled up with a hamstring issue after rounding first and had to leave the game. Of course.
The Red Sox would take advantage though as Andrew Benintendi came through with a two-out double to give the Red Sox their first run of the game. After Hanley Ramirez drew a walk, Martinez came up with a chance for a big swing. Unfortunately, Benintendi had some other ideas. The outfielder took way too big of a lead at second base for no apparent reason and Estrada made a perfect throw into the bag to get the out. An inexcusable baserunning mistake.
Fortunately, much like the Blue Jays brought the heat inning after inning to start, the Red Sox did that themselves in the next third of the game. Trailing 3-1 entering the fourth after Smoak’s homer, the Red Sox got a single from Martinez and a double from Eduardo Nuñez to put two on with just one out. They couldn’t break out a big rally, but Rafael Devers did get a deep fly ball to score their second run of the game and cut the lead to three.
The fifth would be when the game really took a turn. At this point in the game it still felt like things were down despite the one-run deficit due to both Sale being a bit underwhelming (by his standards, at least) and the offense not doing more with good chances. The fifth turned that mood with a two-out rally started with back-to-back singles by Benintendi and Ramirez. That brought Martinez up, and this time Benintendi stayed close enough to the bag. That’s a very good thing, because on the first pitch Martinez took a fastball up and away and drove it over the right field wall for a go-ahead 3-run home run. 5-3 Red Sox.
While this was going on, Sale was settling in a bit even though he still didn’t really have the putaway stuff. Even without that, he had a relatively easy time through the rest of his outing, allowing just one more baserunner. Of course, he could have lasted longer with better stuff, as he needed 20 pitches to get through the first two batters of the fifth. Regardless, he was in line for the win when he left after going six innings having allowed the three runs with four strikeouts and two walks.
So, Sale did what he needed to do even without the swing-and-miss, and the offense finally came through and gave him a little run support. The remaining piece was the bullpen, who was without Joe Kelly for the first game of his six-game suspension. Carson Smith got the call for the seventh and after a quick first out he gave up a triple to Travis. That brought up the left-handed Kendrys Morales to pinch hit, and while he didn’t get a hit he drove in the run with a ground out. Teoscar Hernandez followed that up with a two-out double and Smith was done. Another bad outing for the righty who has not been overly impressive to start this year.
That brought on Matt Barnes to try and get Smoak with a runner in scoring position and two outs, and he did just that with a big strikeout to escape with the one-run lead intact. Barnes would come right back with that same one-run lead to protect in the eighth. Things got pretty tense here as the righty lost control and walked two straight batters with one out. After that, Randal Grichuk hit a weak chopper to shortstop and Tzu-Wei Lin made a nice play charging in and getting the ball to first quickly. It was a high throw, though, and while he was originally called out at first replay seemingly showed Mitch Moreland coming off the bag. However, the Red Sox caught (what looked to me like) a break as the play was upheld on replay and there were two out with two in scoring position for Luke Maile. Barnes then dug deep and got a big boy strikeout with a high fastball to escape with the 5-4 lead still in hand.
After the Red Sox failed to get any more insurance in the ninth, it was up to Craig Kimbrel in his third outing in as many days. The closer was up to the task, pitching to a 1-2-3 inning and locking up another save. The Red Sox took another series and moved their record to 19-5, which seems pretty good for a team for whom the sky is falling. In my humble opinion.
The Red Sox will finally head back home on Friday night to take on the Rays for these two teams’ 432nd meeting already this season. That is, unless Mother Nature has other ideas, and forecasts are showing that could be the case. If they do play it will be Drew Pomeranz going up against Blake Snell with first pitch scheduled for 7:05 PM ET.