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Red Sox 5, Blue Jays 0: Welcome back, Chris Sale

The Red Sox ace actually looked like the Red Sox ace on Thursday.

Toronto Blue Jays v Boston Red Sox Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

Well that’s more like it. The Red Sox got a great performance from Chris Sale on Thursday exactly when they needed it. This was a sneaky test for the lefty, as I explain below, and he got through it. It was the best Sale has looked in weeks, and he was able to secure his first win at Fenway in over a calendar year. Meanwhile, Rafael Devers and Mookie Betts both stayed hot with a home run each and the bullpen was great in three innings. Good stuff all around, which is a really nice change.

There have obviously been a lot of problems with the Red Sox this year, as anyone reading this almost certainly already knows. Given where they stand as we speak and the expectations for the team heading into the year, that comes as a surprise to nobody. If you were to rank the issues with the team, though, the struggles of Chris Sale may very well be at the top. He simply hasn’t been himself for the majority of the year outside of a hot stretch in May and June. The lefty had been back to struggling again. To make matters worse, he was facing a Blue Jays team that had been bizarrely effective against him all year in addition to being at home, where he’s struggled. This was a bigger test than anyone would have imagined.

Fortunately, Sale came out and passed with flying colors. Ideally he would have gone deeper into the game, so it wasn’t perfect, but this is absolutely a start we will take from Sale at this point in the year. Things couldn’t have gotten off to a better start for the Red Sox ace, either, as he mowed down each of the first three batters to kick off the afternoon getaway game. To make things even a little better, all three strikeouts were on different pitchers with the first coming on the changeup, the second on the fastball and the third on the slider.

Toronto Blue Jays v Boston Red Sox Photo by Omar Rawlings/Getty Images

That really set the tone for the rest of the day, and he continued to roll over the next couple innings as well. Sale did allow a single in the second and a walk in the third but didn’t allow any damage on top of that and struck out four batters combined between the two frames before coming back out for the fourth and getting another two-strikeout inning, this one in a perfect frame.

Sale did run into the closest thing he came to trouble in the fifth, an inning that began with a walk to Vladimir Guerrero Jr. After getting two more strikeouts after that, Brandon Drury smacked a single in right field and suddenly the Blue Jays had two runners on base for Freddy Galvis. The Blue Jays shortstop has hit Sale and the Red Sox in general very well this year, but Boston’s southpaw got his 12th strikeout of the day. He’d come back out for one final inning in the sixth, yet another 1-2-3 inning but his first without a strikeout. In all, Sale ended up tossing six scoreless innings in which he struck out the twelve batters and allowed two hits while issuing two free passes. We’ll want to see this more consistently moving forward, of course, but this is a great sign for Sale.

The bad news is that while Sale pitched well, the offense failed to give him support for most of the day. We’ve seen this numerous times over the year, though a lot of that is because Sale often gets matched up against the opponents’ best starters. In this case, Boston was going up against Thomas Pannone. The southpaw had a 6.18 ERA coming into the year, so this wasn’t exactly an ace vs. ace kind of matchup.

You wouldn’t guess his numbers by the way much of this game went, though the Red Sox did get a chance right away in the first. There, Mookie Betts led things off with a base hit and a couple batters later Xander Bogaerts got a single of his own to put two on with just one out. Both J.D. Martinez and Christian Vázquez failed to come through, however, and it was still 0-0 after one.

Toronto Blue Jays v Boston Red Sox Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

That score remained the same heading into the fifth, too. The Red Sox sputtered completely for the next three innings after that first, getting just a walk in that entire time. The fifth would finally see them break things open a bit, though. It was a couple of unlikely faces getting things going in that one, too, with Sam Travis starting the rally with a one-out double. That brought Sandy León up to the plate and he’d line a single into center field, bringing Travis around the score and make it 1-0 Red Sox. After a Betts walk, Rafael Devers came up and, well, he did the damn thing. He got a first-pitch fastball right in his wheelhouse and crushed it way out to right field. Just like that, it was a fairly comfortable 4-0 lead.

The Red Sox would add on another run in the seventh, too, with Betts doing the job this time around. Last year’s MVP led off that inning and got a 2-2 slider that just stayed up in the zone. Betts was all over it, sending it way out to center field and just like that it was a 5-0 lead.

So, now it was just up to the Red Sox bullpen to get through the final three innings without imploding. They’d succeed. Marcus Walden got the call first in the seventh and he’d only need to face three batters thanks to a double play after a hit batter. He came right back out for the eighth, too, getting a 1-2-3 inning to finish off a really impressive day out of the ‘pen. For the ninth, it was Darwinzon Hernandez and he showed what he can look like at his best. The lefty got two strikeouts in a perfect inning to close out the game and a series victory.

The Red Sox will head out on the road on Friday to take on the Orioles. This is a chance for them to stay hot, and they’ll have David Price on the mound to take on John Means. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05 PM ET.