The Red Sox didn’t need a win heading into this game, but they sure weren’t going to complain if they got one. The A’s had already clinched this season series, but going out on a high note and avoiding a sweep was a necessary boost. They got an....interesting start from Chris Sale in which he struck out a bunch of batters and kept runs off the board but was also uncharacteristically wild and inefficient. On offense, it was a familiar story with the top of the lineup doing pretty much all of the damage, but a couple of big swings from J.D. Martinez and Xander Bogaerts. Add in a solid day for the bullpen, and the Red Sox got what they were looking for on Wednesday.
It was a really weird start for Sale, who had a lot going for him but still noticeably was not himself. Right from the beginning he wasn’t really locating his pitches are well as he would have hoped and he didn’t really have much confidence in his slider. We’ve seen him recover from starts like that plenty in the past, but Wednesday was not one of those times as the general lack of control and efficiency stuck around for the duration of the start. In between the bouts of control issues, however, he was....kind of dominant? Sale was racking up strikeouts and whiffs throughout the outing and he really only allowed hard contact once on the night. So, yeah, it was strange.
As I said, the trouble did get started in the first and he allowed a hit to the first batter he faced. It was of the infield variety and not much to worry about, but it’s notable because it was the only hit he’d allow until almost the very end of his start. He also issued a walk in that inning while striking out all three batters he faced. It was a scoreless frame, but it took almost 20 pitches.
There wasn’t much trouble for Sale over the next couple of innings, either, as he allowed just one free pass through the two frames. He did, however, throw a lot of pitches in the process, which of course was an issue all night long. The fourth was a little more stressful with a leadoff walk and a passed ball that put the runner on second, but he worked his way around that with a strikeout and a pair of fly outs.
The Red Sox didn’t quite get off to the start they were hoping for on this homestand, but they have a chance to recover in a big way with Baltimore in town for the weekend. Go out and enjoy some of the action at Fenway with a little help from our friends at StubHub.
It was in the fifth when things clearly weren’t getting better. At this point, the lefty was already up around 80 pitches on the night and the hope was clearly for him to have a relatively quick inning to allow him to make it through six on the night. That didn’t happen as the efficiency never appeared. Sale walked the first batter he faced, and after getting a strikeout he was up against Marcus Semien, the guy who had the only hit off Sale to that point in the game. He got another one here, and it was a lot more impressive than his first-inning infield single. Sale left the Oakland shortstop a fastball up in the zone, and Semien guessed right. The ball was blasted into the Monster Seats down the left field line and the A’s finally got to Sale for the first time in the night. The lefty would get through the rest of the inning unscathed, but that would be it for the night. In all, he lasted just the five innings allowing two runs on two hits, four walks (his most with the Red Sox) and nine strikeouts.
Fortunately, that home run wasn’t a total back-breaker because his offense was able to get him some early run support and a little bit of breathing room throughout those struggles. In fact, they got it all the first chance they got with a big first inning. That one started with Mookie Betts ripping a line drive into left field for a single that was extended to two bases when the ball was bobbled in the outfield. He’d move to third on an Andrew Benintendi single and then score on a Hanley Ramirez ground out. With one man still on second, J.D. Martinez did the rest with a massive home run out to straightaway center field. Just like that, it was a very early 3-0 lead for the Red Sox.
After that, frustratingly enough, the lineup didn’t do much for a while. They’d get baserunners in each of the next two innings before going down 1-2-3 in both the fourth in the fifth.
So, we headed to the sixth with Oakland only trailing by one run and the Red Sox sent Matt Barnes out to the mound as the first line of defense of the lead. He did his job, allowing one single but getting out of it in a relatively stress-free inning.
In the bottom half, the Red Sox went out and finally added some insurance with starter Trevor Cahill out of the game and Ryan Dull in out of the bullpen. Things started off with a Ramirez single and a Martinez walk to put two on for Bogaerts, and he looked like April Bogaerts with this swing. He took a hanging slider and destroyed it out to left field for a huge three-run shot to extend the lead from one to four. Boston would get a couple more baserunners in the inning, but couldn’t plate anymore runs.
That brought on Heath Hembree for the seventh, and things did not get off to a great start. Matt Joyce came into the game as a pinch hitter to lead off the inning, and he took a 3-2 fastball that caught way too much of the plate and sent it into the bullpen for a solo home run, cutting Boston’s lead to three. More concerning is that Betts banged his heel/ankle against the bottom of the wall trying to rob the homer and came up limping. He looked uncomfortable the entire inning, but stayed in the game. Hembree would get out of the inning allowing just the one run.
Joe Kelly had the eighth, and he allowed a leadoff walk that has proven to be trouble for this bullpen in recent weeks. This time, it didn’t come back to haunt him, though. He got one out thanks to a tremendous diving stop by Bogaerts before getting an inning-ending double play.
That brought out Craig Kimbrel for the ninth to protect the three-run lead. It didn’t get off to a great start with Matt Olson starting things off by just barely clearing the red line on top of the Monster for a solo home run. That cut the lead to two, but Kimbrel retired the next three batters he faced to lock this game down.
So, the Red Sox will look for a better series in Baltimore in a four-game set that starts Thursday night. The first game will pit David Price against Kevin Gausman, with first pitch coming at 7:10 PM ET.