The Red Sox have been finishing off their series well all year long, but the goal in this one was to start this three-game set in Tampa Bay off the right way. They had an advantage with Chris Sale on the mound, and he did exactly what they needed him to do. He wasn’t perfect and there was some hard contact here and there, but at the end of the day you always know he is going to put his team in a good position to win games. He did exactly that tonight. The offense was actually a little bit frustrating this time, but once again they got a couple of home runs that was enough to put them on top and keep them there.
The first two innings of this game were mostly quick and uneventful. Sale looked like he was ready for a big outing, though things weren’t completely smooth for the Red Sox ace. Still, he was pumping 97-98 mph fastballs right from the jump, which is a version of Sale we haven’t really seen this year. He was also combining that with a slider that got batters to bite more often than not. Still, despite the two scoreless innings to start he did allow three baserunners on a walk and a pair of line drive singles. The offense, meanwhile, only managed to send six batters to the plate over the first couple innings.
In the third, the game started to pick up a little bit, and by that I mean it started to slow down. The Red Sox have started to slowly get more production from the bottom of their lineup of late, and that continued in this inning when Sandy León drew a one-out walk and Jackie Bradley Jr. followed that up with an infield single. That brought up Mookie Betts with runners on base, and he does what Mookie Betts does. That is, he got a fastball up in the zone and he sent it on a line out to the left field seats for his league-leading 16th homer. He also gave the Red Sox a 3-0 lead with the swing.
After that homer, things only got worse for the Rays, though it didn’t come on the scoreboard. Starter Jacob Faria got a strikeout after the homer, but then had to leave the game with what turned out to be an oblique injury. Austin Pruitt came in unexpectedly, and he immediately walked the first two batters he faced and then hit the next guy. While that was happening, Rays catcher Wilson Ramos was caught with a strange bounce on a pitch in the dirt and he also had to leave the game. That gave Rafael Devers a chance with the bases loaded and brand new battery on the mound, but he popped up to leave ‘em loaded. The Red Sox had a 3-0 lead, but it could have been more.
From there, Boston’s line up slowed down for a few innings, getting just a single through the next two frames. Meanwhile, Sale was starting to get hit a little bit more than it seemed he would be by the Rays. He had a relatively easy third that was assisted by some truly terrible baserunning from Daniel Robertson of the Rays, but the fourth wasn’t so easy. There, Rays top prospect Wily Adames came up to the plate for his second career home run, and Sale left the youngster an awful changeup that hung right up in the middle of the zone. Adames did not miss it, sending it into the left field seats for his first career hit and first career homer (obviously).
That was all they’d get in the fourth, but Tampa Bay would continue to chip away in the fifth. There, things started with a Rob Refsnyder double out to left field. Mallex Smith tried to move him over with a bunt, but he popped it up for an easy out. That wouldn’t end up mattering, however, as soon after that at bat ended León allowed an easy passed ball to get to the back stop, moving Refsnyder to third anyway. Predictably, that proved to be damaging when Robertson flew out to left field to knock the run in and cut Boston’s lead down to just one.
That 3-2 score would be standing heading into the top of the sixth, and there the Red Sox finally got a bit of momentum back on their side. After a couple of quick outs, Devers stepped into the box looking to make up for squandering that earlier bases loaded chance. He did just that by taking a changeup on the inside corner and sending it right over the wall in the right field corner for a solo shot, extending Boston’s lead to two.
With the 4-2 lead, Sale was looking to get back into a groove and cruise his way through a couple of innings to bridge the way to the end of the bullpen. He started well on that path in the bottom half of the sixth when he got a pair of ground outs followed by a strikeout. In the seventh, he did allow a two-out walk but immediately followed that up with a strikeout to end the inning. With 98 pitches under his belt, Sale came back out for the eighth and got a couple of outs to start. His pitch count was up to 110 at that point, and Alex Cora opted to remove his ace. Sale ended his night having allowed just the two runs (only one of which was earned due to the passed ball) in 7 2⁄3 innings on four hits and two walks with nine strikeouts. Joe Kelly came on to try and get the final out of the eighth. He did just that by setting Matt Duffy down on strikes.
So it was up to Craig Kimbrel to finish off this game and preserve the two-run lead. Jesus Sucre was able to lead things off with a single, and after a couple of outs Brad Miller came in to pinch hit and hit a huge double to the right field corner. That put the tying run into scoring position with Refsnyder coming up to the plate, and he’d draw a walk to load the bases for Mallex Smith. The pressure was on, but Kimbrel finally got out of it with a ground ball to shortstop to end the inning and the game, giving Boston their fifth win in six days.
The Red Sox will look to continue their little hot streak and clinch a series victory on Wednesday for the second game of this series in Tampa. They’ll send former Ray David Price to the mound to take on Chris Archer, with first pitch coming at 7:10 PM ET.