Chris Sale is amazing, and I’m really running out of ways to say that. The Red Sox ace was incredible yet again on Wednesday, shutting the Rangers down for seven innings in his typical fashion. The bullpen made things a little more nerve-wracking than they had to be, and the offense wasn’t great, but it didn’t matter. The performance was Sale was too good for the Rangers to overcome. Make that nine straight for the Sox with three straight sweeps.
This was a really fun Sale Day, though that doesn’t mean it was a perfect one. For as good as the results were throughout this outing, he actually was missing his command for much of this game. Particularly in the first two innings, the Red Sox ace was yanking pitches to both sides of the strike zone and that drove his pitch count up a bit. Granted, the bar is incredibly high for Sale and for any other pitcher we’d call this great. In terms of stuff, it was beyond great. He continued to pump that 99-100 mph fastball on a consistent basis to go with one of the nastiest sliders he’s featured all year and a sick changeup to boot. When he’s pitching like this, he’s almost impossible to hit.
As I said, the first couple of innings were a little bit shaky and the first seemed to be the worst of it in terms of command. He was missing his spots by a fairly significant margin, and not only did this lead to obvious balls being called but it also resulted in borderline calls going against him with Sandy León having to drag his glove across the board. He still didn’t allow any damage, though, with the only knock in the inning being a double that really should have been an error on a grounder that went right under Mitch Moreland’s glove.
Over the next few innings, Sale would settle in. His pitch count still got up a bit in the second, but ultimately he’d allow just a single. After a 1-2-3 third he pitched around just one more single in the fourth. That brought us into the fifth, and that inning started with a fairly ugly walk to Robinson Chirinos. That free pass seemed to noticeably affect Sale, and he reacted accordingly. That is to say he struck out the next three batters to end the inning.
Meanwhile, the Red Sox offense was having some trouble early on against Bartolo Colon. Now, the ageless wonder clearly does not have the stuff he once had and it is really frustrating to get shut down by someone like him. There’s no doubt about that. He has outstanding command, though, and his pitches move a lot. That combination, when it’s on, leads to a lot of hard contact. Boston would eventually get to him, thanks in part to the Rangers defense, but the veteran righty was impressive for most of this outing.
Boston would get a runner into second base with just one out in the first inning, but J.D. Martinez and Mitch Moreland both failed to come through and Mookie Betts was stranded in scoring position. The luck was better in the second when Xander Bogaerts led off the inning with a single. He would then move over to second on an errant pickoff attempt by Colon, and the Red Sox shortstop eventually scored when Rougned Odor dropped an easy pop up off the bat of Eduardo Núñez. The run came with a heavy assist from Texas’ defense, but it was a run nonetheless.
After that, the Red Sox took a couple of innings off from scoring. They did have a nice chance in the third when the first two batters reached base, but a Martinez double play killed that rally. They followed that up with a 1-2-3 fourth.
In the fifth, Boston finally put the pressure on Colon, and they got a little more help from the Texas defense. That rally started with back-to-back singles from Betts and Andrew Benintendi, and Martinez finally came through with a big double down the left field line. That would score two and extend the Red Sox lead to three. After Moreland struck out for the second out of the inning, Bogaerts hit a fly ball out to center field. Both Joey Gallo and Delino DeShields converged on the ball, but neither could come up with it. Boston got another run and Bogaerts was credited with an RBI triple. The inning concluded with a 4-0 lead.
Sale came back out for the top of the sixth with the new lead in hand, but it looked like he was poised to give some of it back. The ace allowed a double and a single to put runners on the corners to start that frame off, putting himself in a precarious situation. He’d get through it impressively, though, striking out the next batter he saw before inducing a big double play that he started himself. That ended the inning with the shutout still in hand.
He’d come back out for the seventh with the same score on the board, and after once again allowing the leadoff batter to reach (this time on an infield single) Sale struck out the next three batters. That would be the end of his night, and he finished with seven shutout innings on 12 strikeouts and one walk. It was his fifth consecutive outing in which he finished with at least 11 strikeouts and one or zero walks. The man is bananapants.
After the Red Sox went down in order in the seventh, Heath Hembree came on for the eighth and he did not have his best night. The righty struck out the first batter he faced, but he followed that up by allowing a single that just got over Moreland’s glove. Elvis Andrus would then steal second base and move over to third on a wild pitch before scoring on an infield single from Nomar Mazara to make it 4-1 Boston. He’d get another strikeout before allowing a double and a walk, and all of a sudden the Rangers had the bases loaded.
That would end Hembree’s night and Craig Kimbrel was being called upon to get out of the jam. The closer did not get off to a great start, walking the first batter he faced on four pitches to force in another run. That cut the lead to 4-2. He came back with a big at bat against Joey Gallo after that, though, coming through with a huge strikeout to end the inning without further damage. He came back out for the ninth and had an easier time, striking out all three batters he faced to lock down the save.
The Red Sox will look to keep this streak going in their final series before the All Star break starting on Thursday. They’ll be taking on the Blue Jays with David Price going up against Marco Estrada. First pitch is at 7:10 PM ET.