This game didn’t matter. The Red Sox have clinched everything they needed to, and they had already busted out for a bananas 16-run victory earlier in the day. They sent out their B-team on offense, and the result was of no concern. Except, well, there were some concerns. Chief among them was Chris Sale, who continued to look like a lesser version of himself, and while he can certainly succeed as a lesser version of himself, it’s not what we want to see. It’s not time to hit the panic button or anything like that, but it’s not ideal. Additionally, Matt Barnes had a rough time on the mound in his first test in a close game, though I’m less worried about him simply because it was one bad outing and there was some bad luck involved. That said, still not ideal. Third on the concern train was Craig Kimbrel, both in terms of order of appearance and my level of concern. He was very bad in this game, and it was not ideal.
It wasn’t all bad, to be fair. Rafael Devers had some more good at bats. Eduardo Rodriguez and Ryan Brasier looked great out of the bullpen. Jerry Remy got back in the booth for an inning. There were some fun moments too, is what I’m trying to say.
As has been the case for all of his starts since returning from the disabled list just a few weeks ago, all eyes were on Sale for this one. This was the ace’s final start before the postseason, and while he’d certainly shown flashes in his previous outings, Red Sox fans were searching for something concrete on which to hang their hats heading into October. They didn’t get it. Granted, the results weren’t really terrible and he did get up near 100 pitches on the day, but it wasn’t what we were looking for.
Really, a lot of the problems were the same as they’ve been since his return. His velocity was down, and his command on all of his pitches wasn’t consistently sharp. I’m not sure how worried to be at this point — I will expand on this in the morning, but it’s hard to know what’s “real” and what’s not — but it’s hard to feel good. To put it simply, this hasn’t been the Chris Sale we’ve grown accustomed to over the last two years, and we have to hope the nine-day rest in between starts will get him back into form. The unfortunate, and terrifying, truth is that we have no idea.
The day for the southpaw got off to a perilous start when Sale let a 2-2 slider get away from him and hit Cedric Mullins to kick off the night. After getting his first strikeout of the night, he then allowed an RBI triple to Trey Mancini — though, to be fair, it wasn’t hit tremendously hard but rather misplayed in the right-field corner by Blake Swihart. Adam Jones came up next, and Sale once again let a slider get away from him to hit his second batter of the game already. Fortunately, he settled down a bit after that, allowing a sacrifice fly and then getting another fly out. All told, though, he allowed two runs in that first inning.
The next couple innings were much better for Sale, though he noticeably avoided using his fastball as much as he typically does. He was heavy on sliders and changeups, but to his credit those secondaries were working. He retired all six batters he faced over the second and third, adding three more strikeouts to his tally in the process. In the fourth, he appeared to get into trouble with a leadoff single followed by a blown double play opportunity. However, with two on and two out, Sale came back with a pair of strikeouts to escape the jam.
Finally, he’d come back out for the fifth but he wouldn’t make it through the inning. The frame, to be fair, started with some bad luck as a flare to the right side just found the right spot and ended with an infield single, and Sale would get two outs after that. He deserved a 1-2-3 inning there, but instead he had to keep going. And he’d walk the next batter he faced before giving up a double to Adam Jones, and what was his night. In all, Sale pitched 4 2⁄3 innings allowing three runs and striking out eight. The velocity was most concerning — he sat in the low 90s for most of the night, getting up around 94 just a few times. What happened with two on and two out after he left, well, we’ll get to that in a minute.
Before we do, though, we should get to the offense. The Red Sox sent out their B-lineup in the second game of this doubleheader, but the last time they did that (the day after they clinched) they still won, so no excuses. Anyway, Boston did get some back after going down 2-0 in the top of the first. They got a pair of singles to lead off the bottom half, and after a Rafael Devers walk the bases were loaded with just one out. Blake Swihart couldn’t come through, though, and then Brandon Phillips hit what appeared to be a routine grounder to shortstop. Jonathan Villar couldn’t handle it, though, and the Red Sox were able to cut the lead in half after one.
They’d go down quietly the next couple of innings before coming back to life a bit in the fourth. There, they got some help from a couple of unlikely faces. Sam Travis came through with a one-out base hit to kick things off, and then Tzu-Wei Lin followed that up with a triple and all of a sudden the game was tied at two. Unfortunately, they couldn’t take advantage of the one on, one out situation and the game stayed tied.
So, now we head back to the top of the fifth with Sale out of the game, and it was Eduardo Rodriguez coming in. This was significant as the starter was getting some practice coming in with runners on base. He passed the test quickly, getting a routine fly ball to end the inning. In the bottom half, trailing 3-2, the Sox offense quickly got going again. Devers started the inning with a double and Swihart knocked him in with a single, and just like that it was a tie game again. Swihart would steal second to get to scoring position, but he’d be stranded there.
Rodriguez came back out for the sixth and looked utterly dominant, which was probably the most encouraging sign from this game. The lefty came out and struck out the side in the inning.
After the Red Sox failed to get a lead in the bottom half, Matt Barnes came on for his highest leveraged spot since his return from injury. It did not go so well. The inning started with a double right off the bat, though it was a ball Mookie Betts probably would have caught in right field. That says more about Betts than anything else, and it wasn’t a good pitch. After getting a strikeout, Barnes walked the next batter on four pitches. A stolen base put runners on second and third, and he needed a strikeout. Instead, he kept giving up singles. These weren’t really crushed singles to be fair to Barnes, but at the same time he needs to miss bats and he wasn’t doing it here. All in all, he allowed three straight singles to end his night. Barnes left with two on and a 6-3 deficit for Hector Velazquez. Velazquez did get out of it without any more damage.
Ryan Brasier got the eighth and got himself a quick inning, further cementing his late-inning status in the bullpen. The ninth wasn’t so kind to Craig Kimbrel. To be fair, the closer has looked outstanding of late so this one bad outing isn’t going to get me concerned, but it wasn’t fun to watch. He simply couldn’t find the zone in this one, walking three batters and hitting another before leaving for Robby Scott with the bases loaded and just one out. Long story short, the inning ended with Baltimore leading 10-3. That would be your ballgame.
So, the Red Sox couldn’t finish off a sweep of the Orioles and now they have just one more series remaining in this season. New York will be coming to town for a series starting on Friday, with Rick Porcello taking on....TBD. First pitch is at 7:10 PM ET.