Two words come to mind to describe Chris Sale‘s performance Thursday against the Blue Jays. One word is “dominant.” There’s just no other way to describe a gutsy, 8.0 full innings of work that saw four hits, no runs, one walk and 13 strikeouts.
The other word to describe Thursday’s game is “criminal,” in that it is hard to imagine not coming away from that kind of effort without a win. But that’s what happened.
After the game, Sale was philosophical about it. He said he told pitching coach Carl Willis that he was prepared to stay in the game for the bottom of the ninth to protect the one run the Sox had mustered against the Jays in the top half of that inning. But Manager John Farrell saw it differently, choosing instead to go with closer Craig Kimbrel, who admittedly was lights out over the past weekend and well rested after two days off.
Kimbrel immediately coughed up a solo home run to Kendrys Morales and the game went to extra innings.
In the end Kimbrel walked away with both a blown save and the win after Mookie Betts drove in three with a bases clearing double in the top of the 10th.
“I’m going to want the ball ten times out of nine,” the ever-quotable Sale quipped postgame. “[but] at the end of the day, he’s the manager,” Sale said referring to Farrell’s decision to go with Kimbrel, adding that with Kimbrel’s “electric stuff, I like the odds there.”
Sox leave opportunity on the table
Sale was simply outstanding against a foundering Toronto team. Not since Curt Schilling in 2004 had a Red Sox starter racked up 13 strikeouts while allowing no runs and not more than one walk. Combined with Kimbrel’s five strikeouts over 2.0 IP, the Sox tallied 18 total punchouts, a new season high for a game of any length, and the first time Boston has struck out that many Blue Jays since a 6-5 win in 11 innings on May 10, 1996.
Sale’s ERA, 1.25 to start the day, is now down to 0.91 after four starts. Sale’s 42 strikeouts thus far in 2017 are the third-most for any pitcher since 1893 over his first four games with a team according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
The Sox exit Toronto with a series win, 2-games-to-1. Really, though, nothing less than a sweep should be considered acceptable against this downtrodden AL East foe that has now lost five straight series to start a season for the first time in franchise history.
But the Red Sox couldn’t capitalize on the Jay’s misery. Boston was shutout Wednesday thanks to two errors and in spite of a formidable outing from Rick Porcello.
The Sox seemed headed for another shutout Thursday, held scoreless through the eighth on the strength of starter Marco Estrada‘s excellent 6.0 IP. Estrada allowed just three hits and two walks but no runs and struck out seven. Less efficient than Sale, he was forced from the game after 106 pitches. But a parade of Jays relievers (Joe Biagini, Joe Smith, and Roberto Osuna) were just as successful at keeping the Sox off the board. That is, until with two outs in the ninth, Mitch Moreland hit his club-best 11th double of the season off Osuna and was then driven in on a Xander Bogaerts single.
After Kimbrel allowed Toronto to tie the game in the bottom of the nine, the Sox faced reliever Jason Grilli. With two on and two out, Andrew Benintendi walked to load the bases and Betts hammered the bases clearing double that would finally seal the Jay’s fate.
“A win’s a win,” Dustin Pedroia said after the game, but also noted that run support for Sale is in order. “We will,” he predicted, “we’ll do a better job of that.”