Chris Sale, ladies and gentleman. The Red Sox ace is just an absolute pleasure to watch every time he takes the mound, and this one was no different. Alex Cora and the Red Sox coaching staff wanted to keep him on a pitch count today having just come off the disabled list, and they ended up being even more cautious than we anticipated. For the five innings he did appear in the game, however, he was absolutely incredible and casually racked up twelve strikeouts. The offense wasn’t great, scoring just a couple of runs including one on a Steve Pearce dinger, and the bullpen was shaky as well. The Red Sox got a win, though, and that’s because their ace is out of this world.
Sunday was indeed a Sale Day, and a delayed one at that with the lefty having just spent a short time on the shelf with some shoulder discomfort. Both he and the team made it clear that this was nothing too serious and that he would have pitched if it was October, but any time you hear about a shoulder injury it’s natural to be concerned about performance starting to trend in the wrong direction. Well, those concerns were alleviated in a big way in Baltimore, as Boston’s ace put on an absolute show at Camden and looked every bit as good as he has all season.
Really, there isn’t a whole bunch to say about how well Sale pitched besides saying he was throwing strikes, and doing so with disgusting pitches. His fastball velocity was back in the high-90s and he was throwing frisbee sliders all day long, making Orioles hitters look positively foolish. Over the first two innings he retired all six batters he faced, with four of them going down with a strikeout.
In the third, Sale allowed his first baserunner of the day in the form of a Renato Nuñez single, but that only seemed to make him angry. The lefty came back and struck out the next three batters he faced to leave Nuñez at first base. He’d then strike out two in a 1-2-3 fourth before striking out the side in the fifth. It was banana land and he had gotten through five scoreless innings with a whopping twelve strikeouts on just 68 pitches. Somewhat surprisingly, that fifth inning also marked the end of Sale’s outing. They had said prior to the game that the plan was to have him throw 85-90 pitches, but it’s hard to think there could be another physical issue given how well he was pitching all day long.
On the other side of the ball, the Red Sox offense didn’t really support this stellar performance with any major run support. That being said, Sale did get to pitch with a lead all day long thanks to a quick run in the first. There, after Alex Cobb recorded a couple of quick outs, Steve Pearce came to the plate. Slotting in at the DH spot on Sunday, the righty got a 1-2 curveball that hung over the middle of the plate and up in the zone, and he smashed a no-doubt homer out to left field. Just like that it was a 1-0 lead after just a half inning.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t quite a sign of things to come for this lineup. Over the first three innings, Pearce was the only Red Sox player not to record an out, with Cobb retiring nine of ten batters in that stretch. In the fourth, however, they got going again. Brock Holt started that frame off with a base hit, and J.D. Martinez would come up a couple batters later. The slugger jumped on the first pitch and hit a little fly ball down the right field line. Martinez was able to scoot into second with a double, and because Adam Jones bobbled the ball on the pick-up, Holt came around to score on the error. Like that was it a 2-0 lead.
After a quick inning, it seemed as if Boston would be able to add a bit more to their lead in the sixth when Pearce drew a one-out walk and Martinez followed it up with another double. That put two in scoring position with just one out, but Mitch Moreland struck out and Eduardo Núñez grounded out to strand one runners.
So, the lead was still at 2-0 heading into the bottom of the sixth when Tyler Thornburg got the first call out of the bullpen. He got a couple of quick outs, but then things started to get dicey. He allowed a single to Joey Rickard before walking Jonathan Villar, and all of a sudden the tying run was on base. After also walking Jones, that was it for Thornburg and Ryan Brasier came in to try and clean up the mess. Trey Mancini put up a tough at bat with the bases loaded, but Brasier eventually came through with a huge strikeout to end the inning and preserve the 2-0 lead.
The Red Sox came out and got a runner on second with just one out in the seventh, but failed to capitalize on that. Brian Johnson then came on for the bottom half of that inning, and he did cause as much stress. The lefty did walk one batter, but allowed nothing more to keep the shutout going.
The eighth belonged to Matt Barnes with the same 2-0 lead in hand. The inning did not go so hot for the righty, and it started with some bad luck. Speedster Cedric Mullins hit a soft chopper to first base, but won the footrace to the bag and came away with a single. Jonathan Villar then came through with a one-out single, and a wild pitch would move both runners into scoring position. Barnes then walked Jones on four pitches, loading the bases with just one out. Mancini knocked in one run with a sacrifice fly to cut Boston’s lead in half, but Barnes came back with a big strikeout to end the inning and keep the lead in hand.
Finally, in the top of the ninth, the Red Sox offense got back on track. Núñez started things off with a single, and after he stole second Jackie Bradley Jr. knocked him in with a single of his own. Mookie Betts was up next, and he poked a double into right-center field, scoring Bradley and giving the Red Sox a 4-1 lead heading into the bottom of the ninth.
It was Craig Kimbrel on to try and protect that lead, and after getting a strikeout to start things off he allowed a couple baserunners himself. The first came on a walk and the second came on a flare into right field, bringing the tying run to the plate. Kimbrel settled down from there, though, getting two strikeouts to close out the game.
So, the Red Sox will be rewarded for their sweep with a well-deserved (and needed) day off on Monday. From there, they’ll travel to Philadelphia for a quick two-game set against the Phillies starting on Tuesday.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear Boston will add to their cushion in the American League East with this win, as the Yankees are up 7-2 in the ninth as I write this. The Red Sox will have to settle for a 9.5-game lead.