Chris Sale can’t stop Red Sox doldrums in loss to Yankees

September 4, 2017 GMT

NEW YORK — At this point, even Chris Sale seems to be losing steam, and any momentum the Red Sox generated last month is long gone.

The Red Sox are still in first place, but you wouldn’t know it from watching this weekend’s series at Yankee Stadium. And you wouldn’t know it from watching their past two weeks of losing baseball.

Last night was the latest indignity, a 9-2 blowout to the Yankees, a second-place team that regularly outpitched, outhit and outplayed the Red Sox this weekend.

The Sox lost three-of-four games in this series, and the only starting pitcher who kept them from being swept was Doug Fister, the nominal No. 5 man who’s only in the rotation because David Price is hurt.

Sale should have been the great equalizer last night, but the Red Sox have been no better with him on the mound. In their past 16 games, the Red Sox are 7-9, and three of those losses belong to Sale.

Three of those wins, meanwhile, have come against last-place Toronto.

The Red Sox still have a 31/2-game lead in the division, but that’s exactly that it was at the All-Star break, meaning they’ve wiped out most of the headway they generated by winning 13-of-15 immediately after the trade deadline.

As the Red Sox have slipped, so has their ace.

No longer an overwhelming favorite to win the Cy Young award — Cleveland’s Corey Kluber has a lower ERA and a better WHIP — Sale has lost three of his past four starts, and last night he did not even last through the fifth inning.

Sale allowed three home runs for the first time this season, and manager John Farrell pulled him after a one-out single in the fifth.

The Red Sox bullpen got through that inning without allowing a run, but the sixth was a mess in which four different relievers — Joe Kelly, Robby Scott, Addison Reed and Matt Barnes — combined to allow six runs (Barnes was the only innocent one in the bunch; he walked a batter before getting the final out).

Along the way, pitching coach Carl Willis was thrown out of the game for arguing balls and strikes. He felt ball three to Gary Sanchez should have been strike two — and he seemed to have a strong case — and the very next pitch was a sharp ground ball to third, where Rafael Devers nearly made an inning-saving play.

The would-be third out was overturned by video review, and the flood gates opened from there. Three-run double by Starlin Castro. Two-run home run by Aaron Judge. And a contest became a rout.

But that wasn’t the difference in a win and a loss. The difference was Sale being outpitched by Luis Severino.

Sale has seven losses this season, and three of them have come in the past 18 days.

In this season’s previous four starts against the Yanks, Sale had a 2.12 ERA with 44 strikeouts in 292/3 innings, but even those numbers are a bit misleading. He allowed a total of three earned runs in his first three starts against them, but the Yanks scored four against him on Aug. 19, their most recent matchup before this one.

This time, Sale allowed a Chase Headley home run in the third inning, then back-to-back home runs to Matt Holliday and Todd Frazier in the fourth. Headley and Holliday also went deep against the Red Sox on Saturday.

Severino, meanwhile, retired 16 of the first 18 batters he faced, and even when the Red Sox scored against him, it was only because of two errors and a passed ball.

Through Severino’s six innings, the Red Sox had just two hits, no walks, nine strikeouts and an unearned run. By the time Severino was out of the game, the Red Sox were out of hope.

There was a time this season when, even as things were going poorly, the Red Sox could count on Sale to give them a chance. That hasn’t been a given lately, and the Sox’ record shows it.