Red Sox Nation has waited a long time for this kind of Sale. They got it Thursday in the opener at Fenway against the Angels. It was a dominant shutout performance with just two hits allowed to go along with 13 strikeouts and no walks. Thursday’s was Sale’s longest start with two or fewer hits allowed since August 8, 2017 at Tampa Bay (also 8.0 IP).
Thursday’s was also the first shutout with 13+ strikeout by a Red Sox pitcher since Sale did it June 24, 2018 against the Mariners. Sale has recorded the last four instances of such games for the Sox. Before him no Boston pitcher had recorded that kind of game since Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez in 2002.
Sale’s 13 strikeouts on Thursday gave him 206 on the season, his third campaign with 200+ SO with the Red Sox. Only Martinez (6 seasons) and Roger Clemens (8 seasons) have had more for Boston. Sale is the only major league pitcher with 200+ strikeouts in each of the last seven seasons. In the American League only Clemens (1986-92) and Walter Johnson (1910-16) have had as many consecutive seasons.
That Vintage Sale re-emerged after his last outing is all the more remarkable. The lanky lefty, who has struggled for most of 2019, was absolutely shelled last week in New York, allowing eight earned runs over just 3.2 IP. Indeed, Sale had given up five or more earned runs in five of his last seven games, leading fans to question whether his best years are behind him and whether the Sox blundered in extending him through 2025 before the first pitch of 2019.
But on Thursday night Sale sparkled, retiring 16 consecutive Angels from the final out of the first through the final out of the sixth. He worked quickly, too, with the whole game completed in 2:16, the quickest Red Sox game since August 3, 2017 against (believe it or not) the Yankees, also at Fenway.
Long Balls from Travis & León
Red Sox offense, so often inconsistent this season, was limited to just five hits for just the 15th time this season. Only the Braves and Cubs have had fewer such games in 2019. Top of the order batters Mookie Betts, Rafael Devers and Xander Bogaerts combined to go 0-for-11. But the Sox got all the power they needed from Sam Travis and Sandy León, who recorded two-run and solo home runs, respectively. For Travis, his second inning blast was estimated at 443 feet, the longest of his career.
After the game Manager Alex Cora, while declining to cite any specifics, said Sale’s performance was especially gratifying given the team’s efforts since his last outing, “There was a lot of work between starts…a lot of work, a lot of video.” In postgame comments Sale acknowledged the help he’s received, “We spent a lot of time this week looking at some things…zones, and tunnels, and where all my damage was coming from.”
Is that it? Is Sale back to “normal?” Sale was understandably measured. “You never want to say you figured it out, but it’s a step in the right direction…Obviously, it’s an uphill battle [to the postseason], but still think we got a shot, and we’re all still fighting in here.”