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Red Sox 16, Orioles 2: Smooth Sale-ing

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Baltimore Orioles v Boston Red Sox Photo by Rich Gagnon/Getty Images

Chris Sale graced the mound at Fenway for the first time since going down with an elbow injury late in 2019 and delivered a strong start in front of an eager home crowd. He received plentiful run support from the offense, which started fast and piled on the struggling Orioles late for a 16-2 win. Saturday’s blowout clinched the Red Sox’s first series victory in 17 days.

It was a moment 735 days in the making and Chris Sale took full advantage. In front of an animated Fenway Park on Saturday afternoon, Sale took centerstage for his first start since 2019 and rarely looked rusty. For the most part, Sale cruised through five innings, cutting down the hapless Orioles lineup as if the layoff had never happened.

In the first inning, Sale struck out two and ended the frame by fanning Anthony Santander on a 96 mph fastball, his hardest pitch of the afternoon. As the game progressed and late-day shadows inched forward to cover the infield, Sale got more comfortable. He began to challenge hitters inside with the fastball more often and throw the trademark slider to right-handed hitters’ back foot for strikeouts.

Sale’s line was blemished in the third during his second run through the opposing order. He left a pair of off-speed pitches up in the zone and over the middle of the plate to Austin Hays and Trey Mancini, who turned on them for back-to-back solo homers.

Baltimore threatened again in the fifth, but Sale got some help from his defense and the Orioles’ bad luck. Richie Martin tried to go from first to third on a single and actually beat Hunter Renfroe’s throw easily, but stepped off of the bag while coming up from his slide. Devers kept the tag on Martin through the end of the play. Martin was initially ruled safe, but a quick review revealed that Martin was clearly out and neutralized what would have been a 1st-and-3rd, no outs jam.

With Hirokazu Sauwamura warming and Sale’s pitch count climbing to 89, the crowd at Fenway could sense it was the end of his day. He exited to a standing ovation after allowing just two runs over five innings of work. Sale struck out eight and walked none.

The Sox backed him with plenty of offense and did it quickly. They tagged Orioles starter Jorge López for four runs before recording an out. After López nailed Xander Boagarts on the left hand to load the bases, he hit the backstop with a fastball, allowing Kiké Hernández to score standing up from third.

Then Rafael Devers homered into the right field bleachers to bring home three more. Distance: “4 and a hazel”, according to Dennis Eckersley (it officially traveled 424 feet).

The top of the order came through again in the second. Hernandez singled to right — securing his 24th multi-hit game of the season — then stole second and was driven in by an opposite-field single from Alex Verdugo. Bogaerts made it 6-0 with a double to the left-center gap one batter later.

Boston’s 1-4 hitters went 11-12 on Saturday with two doubles, two walks, a homer and seven RBIs. Four of those hits had an exit velocity north of 105 mph.

After loading the bases in the bottom of the fourth, Lopez was pulled in favor of left-hander Paul Fry, but he fared no better. Devers poked his second pitch of the day — an away-breaking slider — into left field. Hernandez scored easily from second to make it 7-2, Boston.

With Fry still on the mound in the fifth, Jaren Duran got in on the action, hitting the center field wall on one hop for a run-scoring triple to expand the Sox’s lead to six. Then Bobby Dalbec launched a home run into the Monster seats, bringing home a pair of runs. Later in the inning, Xander Bogearts drove in another score with a single. And J.D. Martinez capped the crooked, 7-run frame with a three-run homer to put the Sox up 14-2.

The hit parade didn’t stop there. Dalbec continued his recent hot streak with another dinger — a 445-foot blast that safely cleared the Green Monster — to make it 15-2. Hunter Renfroe also homered late and extended the lead to 14. He punctuated the day by taking position player Austin Wynns to the Monster seats for a solo shot.

Sawamura, Hansel Robles, Austin Davis and Martin Perez each pitched an inning and put a bow on things by keeping the O’s off of the scoreboard.

Boston picked up a half game on the Rays, who are just getting underway against the Twins as this is being written.

The Sox will go for the sweep on Sunday afternoon at 1:10pm. Eduardo Rodriguez will start on the mound against Bruce Zimmermann.