Chris Sale is good at this pitching thing, you guys. The Royals do not provide the biggest test for the Red Sox ace, of course, but he made easy work of this Kansas City lineup on Wednesday. The lefty ended up tossing a complete game shutout on the road in which he allowed just three hits, none going for extra bases, and striking out a whopping twelve batters. Oh, and he mixed an immaculate inning in there for good measure. Why the hell not, right? On the other end, the offense finally gave him some run support with a nice, all-around effort that was opened up by a big, four-run fifth inning. Good times all around.
There have been some constant themes for the Red Sox over the last couple of years, specifically regarding Chris Sale. The first and most important of those themes has been that the dude has been very god at pitching. The frustrating side of things has also seen him fail to get run support. Now, some of this is anecdotal as the nights in which he doesn’t get the support he deserves stand out more than they others. Some of it also has to do with him being scheduled and matched up against other teams’ best starting pitchers, too. Still, with all of that factored in it seems like the Red Sox ace is disproportionately left out to dry by his teammates.
It was certainly true his last time out against the Yankees, but the Red Sox offense on Wednesday was going up against one of the worst pitching staffs in the league in Kansas City. Specifically, they were facing Jakob Junis, who has some talent but has rarely been able to perform better than a league-average pitcher at best. The key, as it often is, was to not let the righty get into any kind of groove.
The Red Sox succeeded at that goal. Just a few days ago, Alex Cora officially announced that Mookie Betts and Andrew Benintendi would hit at the top of the lineup in that order for the rest of the year, flipping from the early-season plan. Things have worked in the very early going (again, against a bad pitching staff) and that continued here. Betts started the inning by drawing a walk, then moved over to second on a wild pitch before a Benintendi single put runners on the corners with nobody out. A couple batters later, Rafael Devers would give his team the lead on a ground ball to the pitcher. It seemed to be a misplay by Junis and a great baserunning play by Betts, who froze at third before breaking for the plate when Junis turned to try and convert a double play. He had no chance at two, and should have looked Betts back and gotten the out at first.
Instead, it was a 1-0 lead for the Red Sox. Another defensive mistake extended the inning further, too, when Bogaerts hit a ground ball to first base that was botched by Cheslor Cuthbert. It should have been out number two, but it instead put runners on the corners for Brock Holt. The utility man has been red-hot since returning from injury, and extended his hit streak to seven games here with an RBI single to give Boston a 2-0 lead after the top half of the first.
After that first inning, it seemed like it was sure to be a big night for the Red Sox offense. Instead, their momentum died down for the next few innings. In the second, they did get a one-out double from Sandy León and a two-out single from Benintendi that likely could have scored the catcher. Instead, they held León at third and he’d be stranded there. They’d then go down in order in the third before managing just a walk in the third.
So, Chris Sale was able to pitch with a lead before even taking the mound, but the offense made the game close for most of the middle innings. Fortunately, the Red Sox ace was more than up to the task against a subpar offense. Granted, the Royals lineup is much better than their pitching and their speed can make things very stressful, but Sale had faced the Astros or Yankees in his last three starts. By comparison, most any other lineup is going to seem like a cakewalk.
Sale made sure there was no signs of life in that first inning, too. The last thing anyone wanted was for him to give that early lead right back, and he got through an easy 1-2-3 bottom of the first on just nine pitches. He gave up his first hit of the night in the second, too, but it was only a single and he’d allow nothing more. The southpaw would again allow just a single in the third and still only face three batters thanks to a successful back-pick by León before tossing a 1-2-3 fourth.
So, heading into the fifth it was still 2-0 for the Red Sox, but they’d be able to put this one away shortly after that. That rally started with a double from Benintendi to kick off the inning, and then a couple batters later Devers did the same thing to get the lead up to three. After Bogaerts drew a walk and Holt got his second base hit of the day, the bases were loaded for Jackie Bradley Jr. The center fielder came through in the big spot, ripping a double out to right field to clear the bases, knocking Junis out of the game and pushing the lead up to 6-0. They’d add two more in the seventh on a Devers home run and a León sacrifice fly.
Meanwhile, Sale only continued to roll once his team gave him the run support he deserves. He got through an easy seventh inning before coming back out for the eighth. He struck out the first batter on three pitches. Then struck out the second batter on three pitches. Then struck out the third batter on three pitches for his second immaculate inning of the season. That is bananas. He’d come back out for the ninth and toss yet another scoreless frame to finish off the complete game shutout and give Boston their third straight win.
The Red Sox and Royals will have a quick turnaround for their series finale on Thursday, which gets underway at 1:15 PM ET. The Red Sox will send Ryan Weber out to the mound for that one to take on Danny Duffy.