The Red Sox were not exactly going all-out to win this game, submitting a lineup including almost exclusively bench players. That didn’t matter, because this team still finds a way to win. Chris Sale got the start and he was effective, though inefficient. He was the story of this game, and you’ll get details of his start below, but somehow this lineup scored seven runs. What?
If we’re being honest with ourselves, there was really only one portion of this game with which we were concerned, and that was Chris Sale on the mound. The lefty was set for his third start since coming off his lengthy stay on the disabled list, and he hadn’t been able to make his inning goal in any of the previous two. He didn’t make it in this one either — they wanted him to toss about 75 pitches and five innings — but it wasn’t all bad. On the positive side, Sale looked like himself in terms of strikeouts, largely due to his slider being bananas. That pitch has improved with each start. His fastball, however, was good, but not great. The velocity was down, though he did get up to 94-95 a few times. Of course, Sale plays around with his fastball velocity at will, so it’s hard to tell if he was going for max velocity, or how often. In addition to the velocity, the command wasn’t quite up to peak. Still, all of that said, he was much more good than bad.
In the first inning, Sale looked good getting two quick outs to start things off, but then he fell into a long at bat against MVP candidate Jose Ramirez. Eventually, on the eighth pitch, Sale got a slider by the Indians infielder for his first strikeout of the night. The second was even better, though it did take a lot of pitches. The lefty allowed a single to Josh Donaldson, but other than that it was pure Sale. He got a slider by Edwin Encarnacion, and then another one by Yandy Diaz, and then another one by Brandon Guyer for a three-strikeout frame.
The third was the first time Sale had to go up against two baserunners as he allowed a leadoff single — it was a rocket off the wall in left field — to Yan Gomes, as well as a two-out base hit to Michael Brantley. He worked around the trouble, though, getting two more strikeouts and a ground out to end the inning. Sale was at 60 pitches at this point and it seemed like they might not bring him back out for the fourth, but they gave him a chance to get through four at least.
He did get his seventh strikeout of the day to start the inning, but then he left a 1-2 fastball to Donaldson over the middle of the plate. The Indians third baseman smashed it into the left field seats, and Sale’s perfect day was over. In fact, he was riding a streak of 35 consecutive scoreless innings that ended with the home run. Sale came back out, allowing a base hit to Diaz and his night was over. Again, it wasn’t perfect, but there were certainly plenty of moments in which Sale looked like Sale.
After he was removed, Heath Hembree came into the game, and the right-handed reliever continued to look more and more like a guy who will be left off the playoff roster. He allowed hard contact to the first batter he faced, but Brock Holt was there to record an out. Nobody was catching the next one, as Gomes got a hanging curveball on the first pitch of the at bat and he didn’t miss it. The catcher went yard, and Hembree let Cleveland take a 3-1 lead.
Meanwhile, well, the offense was playing, but it was not the normal offense. This was a lineup with Tzu-Wei Lin leading off and Brandon Phillips hitting second. I mean, come on. Anyway, the Red Sox did get on the board first when Sam Travis went to the opposite field for a home run. Somewhat amazingly, it was the first dinger of his career. The Red Sox would then get on the board again in the sixth when Rafael Devers hit a solo homer of his own.
Elsewhere in the bullpen, Bobby Poyner came out for the fifth and he immediately allowed a double and a single to put two on with nobody out. He did allow a run on a sacrifice fly, but he avoided further damage in an inning that could have been a lot worse. In the sixth, Matt Barnes took the mound for the first time since the start of the month, and he looked alright. There was some rust there and he struggled with control, especially early, but he worked around a walk thanks to a caught stealing and made it through the inning against just three batters with one strikeout mixed in.
In the top of the seventh, well, I started caring about the offense because it suddenly got fun. After a quick first out, Brock Holt got a single, then Blake Swihart got one of his own. After that, Travis continued to channel his inner Grapefruit League and smashed a two-run double. Just like that the game was tied. They didn’t stop there, though. Lin knocked in the go-ahead run on a ground ball that deflected off the pitcher, and Phillips added an insurance run on another base hit. The Red Sox, somehow, had a 6-4 lead.
So, Drew Pomeranz came in to protect the lead, and while he did allow a run he looked as good as he has in a long time. The lefty struck out the first two batters he faced before hitting Brantley. Then, he allowed a fly ball to left field that should have been the third out. Instead, the ball got caught up in the wind and Travis couldn’t figure it out. He let it land in front of him, allowing a run to score and cut the lead in half. Pomeranz then walked a batter (he got squeezed a bit) and Brandon Workman came on to finish things off.
In the eighth, Hector Velazquez got the call. Devers started things off on the wrong foot with an error to put the leadoff man on, and after the first out of the inning Cleveland would get a double to put two in scoring position. Cora then called for Robby Scott to escape the jam, and he did just that, inducing a pop up from Jason Kipnis before getting an inning-ending flyout.
The Red Sox got an insurance run in the top half of the ninth when Lin joined the party, hitting a solo shot out to right field for his first career homer. So, now with a two-run lead, Craig Kimbrel came on for the save. He converted it easily, setting down the middle of Cleveland’s lineup in order to complete the win.
The Red Sox and Indians will continue their series on Saturday, with Rick Porcello taking on Mike Clevinger. First pitch is at 7:10 PM ET.