It was an easy, feel-good night at Fenway as the Red Sox capitalized on every opportunity given to them in a comfortable, 7-2 win over the Minnesota Twins on Thursday night. Rafael Devers and Bobby Dalbec displayed some pop, Kyle Schwarber continued to walk like no man has walked before, and Chris Sale was masterful with his slider on the way to his third win in as many starts this season.
Sale cruised through the first inning. And the second. And the third. And the fourth. The Twins didn’t get their first hit until there was one out in the fifth. He lasted 5 ⅓ innings — a season-high — and threw 80 pitches while surrendering just two runs on two hits and walks and striking out eight.
He also got some help from the defense. In the second, Dalbec made a smooth sliding stop — the kind of play he didn’t make late in a loss against the Yankees on August 18 — and J.D. Martinez made a difficult catch on a line drive that looked like it was going to sail directly over his head. Later, in the fifth, Christian Arroyo made a fine play of his own, diving to his left to field a ball destined for right field before sprinning around to make an easy throw to first.
That was just the beginning of a career night for the Red Sox first baseman, too. Dalbec finished the night at the plate with a pair of homers and seven RBIs. He hit the ball hard all night, finishing with an average exit velocity of 103.3 on his four batted balls.
Dalbec got the Sox on the board with a clutch blast in the second inning. Twins starter John Gant had put two men on with consecutive walks. Boston was in danger of squandering that opportunity after Arroyo and Jarren Durran grounded into fielders’ choices, but before Gant could escape, Dalbec made him pay. He smashed a two-out, three-run homer to the Monster seats for his 15th dinger of the year. The blast an exit velocity of 101.1 mph and travelled 410 feet.
Sale came back with the ultimate shutdown frame: an immaculate inning. In the top of the third, he struck out Nick Gordon, Andrelton Simmons and Rob Refsnyder in succession on nine pitches. It was his third career immaculate inning. Four of his 10 swings and misses to that point came in the top of the inning.
The Red Sox tacked on one more in the third when Kyle Schwarber led off with a double. After that, Martinez continued his recent cold streak with a strike out and Rafael Devers grounded out to move Schwarber over to third. With two outs and two strikes, Verdugo reached to flip a changeup from the opposite batters box into left field for a run-scoring single. He mimicked rocking a baby while celebrating on first, an ode to his two-week old newborn, A.J.
Sale sat the Twins down in order in the fourth and capped the inning with a sword — a feeble and fruitless swing from Miguel Sano on the vintage Sale Slider that ended closer to Sano’s right foot than his bat. Sale has slowly ramped up the usage of his trademark pitch over the last three starts. He used it only 20 percent of the time in his 2021 debut against the Orioles on August 14, compared to 40 percent on Thursday night.
The Twins eventually did eventually get to Sale. In the fifth, Ryan Jeffers hit a 40 mph dribbler up the third base line and Sale, the only defender with any chance at a play, elected not to field it. That was Minnesota’s first hit of the night. Unfortunately, their second hit came one batter later and it landed on top of the Green Monster for a two-run home run off the bat of Willans Astidullo that cut the lead in half.
But Rafael Devers got Sale some more breathing room by the following half inning. With runners on first and second and one out, Devers lined a single into right field, scoring Kiké Hernández from second to make it 5-2, Boston. And Sale pitched with added intensity following the home run. He touched 96 mph or higher on eight occasions after Astidullo went yard.
Garrett Whitlock relieved Sale and was his routinely excellent self. Whitlock went 1 ⅔ hitless and scoreless, struck out two and bridged the gap between Sale and the back of the Red Sox bullpen.
Dalbec delivered once again in the bottom of the sixth with a two-run single to center, his second hit and fourth and fifth RBIs of the night. Dalbec’s been raking during the month of August. Over his last 20 games, he’s batting .347 with five homers, nine runs scored and 19 RBIs. During that span, his average has gone up 15 points, OPB up 20 points and slugging percentage up 43 points.
Martinez added one more on a sacrifice double play. Simmons made a tremendous play ranging way into the hole to initiate the turn, but Devers wouldn’t let them off the hook. He blasted a two-run homer, his 30th of the season. Dalbec continued to pile on with another two-out homer, this one good for two runs to make it 12-2, Boston.
Between the Garretts, Whitlock and Richards, and Matt Barnes — that’s right Matt Barnes, who pitched a scoreless ninth to end the game — even the bullpen had a great night. They combined to cover the remaining 3 ⅔ innings of the game expertly and quietly, save for a bases loaded jam in the eighth. But Richards was able to escape even that without allowing a score.
To underscore how the night was going, Astudillo — an infielder — eventually made an appearance on the mound for Minnesota. He worked around a walk and an error to throw a scoreless ninth inning for the Twins.
With this win, the Red Sox are 73-56 and have won two series in a row.
Tampa Bay was off tonight, and the Yankees and Athletics are playing as I write this. No matter the result, we are winners. The Sox will leave for Cleveland tonight, where they will open a three-game series vs. the Guardians on Friday.