No need for late Sale
It had become the norm to send Chris Sale to the mound for at least 110 pitches, so there was a sense of surprise when Red Sox manager John Farrell asked the starter for the ball in the seventh inning last night at Fenway Park.
Sale had thrown the ball at least 110 times in five straight starts, bailing out the team’s middling offense and overworked bullpen like it was part of his job description.
This time, it was the other way around.
Sale was dominant over 61/3 innings, but with the tying run on second and go-ahead run on first, Heath Hembree relieved him and cleaned up Sale’s emerging mess, saving the lefty and earning him his 10th win of the season.
The Sox extended their lead in the bottom of the inning and edged the Minnesota Twins, 4-1, to snap a two-game losing streak.
Sale allowed just four hits.
The Sox starter entered the night leading all MLB pitchers with 4.6 WAR, according to Fangraphs, then struck out nine batters, pushing his season total to 155, easily the most in the majors.He lowered his ERA to 2.77, fourth in the American League despite a strand percentage of just 70, 13th-lowest among 74 qualified starters.
Sale put just six runners on base last night, one of which, Chris Gimenez, tagged him for a solo homer in the third inning for the Twins’ only run.
Their starting third baseman, Miguel Sano, is in line to start the All-Star Game for the AL, but could do nothing against Sale, going 0-for-3 with two strikeouts. Sano badly missed a slider in the dirt to whiff in the first inning, then swung through a 97-mph heater at the top of the zone to fan again in the sixth.
In some trouble in the seventh, Sale was pulled to a standing ovation from the Fenway Park crowd, but he did not tip his cap this time, perhaps disgruntled to leave the game with the go-ahead run on first.
With Gimenez due up again, Farrell must have feared another long ball. His faith in Hembree was rewarded. The right-hander induced a double play to end the inning.
Matt Barnes struck out the side in the eighth and Craig Kimbrel handled a perfect ninth for his league-leading 21st save.
Early on, the Red Sox presented Sale with a quick 2-0 lead off Twins righty Jose Berrios.
Mookie Betts and Dustin Pedroia began the game with a pair of singles and Betts scored on a groundout by Xander Bogaerts.
Mitch Moreland then pegged his third homer in three games, a solo shot over the Green Monster.
The Sox added two more in the seventh.
They improved to 42-34 and ahead of the 40-33 New York Yankees, who played late, for first place in the AL East.