Over these last couple of weeks the mission in Boston is simply to beat the teams you are supposed to beat. It’s easier said than done, though it looked fairly easy on Friday. They did actually fall behind briefly when Chris Sale, who wasn’t working with his best stuff, gave up an early solo homer. But the southpaw worked around his relatively lackluster stuff, and the offense steadily added on against Baltimore’s pitching staff to ultimately pull away and win handily.
The Red Sox are entering the final portion of the schedule, a portion which very much puts the ball in their court. There are a lot of bad teams ahead of them, but they are still major-league players. The schedule favors Boston, but ultimately they have to take care of business and get the job done, starting tonight against the Orioles to start a three-game set. And to start things off, they had Chris Sale back on the mound for his first start since hitting the COVID list.
This was very much not a vintage Chris Sale kind of start, which is not the same thing as saying it was bad. For the most part, the southpaw got the job done; it just wasn’t with his typical kind of stuff. Sale only struck out one batter in his five-inning outing, but also allowed just one run. Relying heavily on his slider and throwing his fastball (with reduced velocity) less than a third of the time, he was getting things done largely by inducing ground balls and letting his defense do the work. That’s typically not a great plan with this team, but the infield was up to the task on Friday with good plays coming from every spot.
The one bit of trouble we saw from Sale on Friday came in the second inning, when not coincidentally he happened to give up a batted ball in the air. It was with Austin Hays leading off the inning, and Sale did get ahead 0-2. But Hays watched two balls go by to even up the count, and then Sale threw a 91 mph fastball right down the heart of the plate. Hays hit a no-doubt bullet out to left field for a solo run. Sale settled down after that, and the team is clearly taking it easy on him after the layoff, pulling him after only 79 pitches.
On the other side, the Red Sox were trying to get going early and often against a lefty in Keegan Akin who, frankly, has not looked big-league caliber this year. Boston did have a chance in the first when Xander Bogaerts kept the inning alive with a two-out walk before Rafael Devers put a double off the Monster. It looked like it’d score a run, but Cedric Mullins held Bogaerts at third by playing the ball well off the wall, and J.D. Martinez would strand a pair in scoring position to keep the Red Sox off the board.
But in the second, with the team now trailing by a run, they answered right back. This time it was Christian Vázquez getting it started with a double down the third base line. After a single put runners on the corners, José Iglesias came through once again, this time smacking a ground rule double out to right field. That scored one run, and a sacrifice fly right after that gave the Red Sox a 2-1 lead at the end of the inning.
The momentum continued into the fourth as well, this time with one swing of the bat. It was Bobby Dalbec, who has been one of the hottest hitters on planet Earth for the last six weeks. He led off the inning, and in a 2-1 count he went down and got a slider down in the zone, putting it out into the seats with his 23rd homer of the year and giving his team a two-run lead.
They weren’t slowing down in the fifth inning either, with Martinez making up for the missed opportunity early in the game. But before he came to the plate, the table was set with a Hunter Renfroe walk. That led Baltimore to go to their bullpen, and with two outs and Renfroe now at second due to a wild pitch, Martinez smacked a double out to right field. The hit brought Renfroe home and made it a 4-1 ballgame.
With the score still close and the top of Baltimore’s order coming around for the sixth, Alex Cora somewhat surprisingly went to Garrett Whitlock out of the bullpen first in this game. He was his typically dominant self, inducing two grounders and getting a strikeout for a perfect inning.
And in the sixth, the Red Sox got the separation they were looking for. It wasn’t much loud damage to start the inning, loading the bases on a pair of singles and a walk, but then Renfroe had the big swing. A liner into left-center field was out of the reach of a diving Mullins, leading to a bases-clearing double and a 7-1 Boston lead.
All that was left was the rest of the bullpen now imploding. Hirokazu Sawamura tossed a perfect inning, and then Matt Barnes made his first appearance since hitting the COVID list. He didn’t look sharp early, but he came back and stranded a pair of runners for a scoreless inning of his own. That just left Martín Pérez for the ninth, and he tossed a perfect inning of his own to finish off the game.
The 7-1 victory pushed the Red Sox record to 84-65. Looking at the rest of the wildcard race, as of this writing the Yankees won their game over Cleveland while Toronto lost to the Twins. That puts Boston in sole possession of the top wildcard spot, leading the Yankees by a half-game, who in turn lead the Blue Jays by a half-game. Oakland and Seattle trailed Boston by three and four games, respectively, coming into Friday’s action, and both lead in their ongoing games.
The Red Sox and Orioles continue this series on Saturday with a matinee pitting Nick Pivetta against Zac Lowther. First pitch is set for 1:10 PM ET.