Chris Sale’s masterpiece signals a return to form for the Red Sox’ ace

“In the tunnel he goes, ‘You’re not going to let me get 20?’ Sarcastic, but probably serious too.”

Chris Sale Red Sox MLB
Chris Sale threw 17 strikeouts against the Rockies on Tuesday, finishing the evening three Ks shy of the MLB record. –Kathryn Riley / Getty Images

It was a memorable night for the Boston Red Sox, as their ace, Chris Sale, fashioned a masterpiece, striking out 17 batters in seven innings, a little shy of a major league record.

Unfortunately, after the Red Sox pulled Sale, Brandon Workman blew the save, and the team managed to lose to the Colorado Rockies, 5-4, in 11 innings on a cold Tuesday night at Fenway Park.

In the seventh inning, with 14 strikeouts to his credit, Sale gave up a two-run shot to Nolan Arenado. He still led, 3-2. He then struck out three batters in the inning to reach 17.

The major league record of 20 was looming. It was set by a Red Sox player, Roger Clemens, and matched by Clemens (again), Kerry Wood, Randy Johnson and Max Scherzer. But Sale was at 108 pitches, and manager Alex Cora decided that was enough.
The pitchers with 18 or more strikeouts all pitched at least eight innings; Sale’s 17 was the most strikeouts by any pitcher throwing just seven innings, breaking the record of 16 held by Johnson (three times) and a few others.


Johnson still holds the record for most K’s in a game that went the wrong way. In 1997, he fanned 19 Oakland Athletics in nine innings but gave up four earned runs and took the loss.

As for keeping Sale in a little longer, Cora told reporters: “There’s a bigger goal here, and we’ve been very disciplined throughout the process.” Of Sale’s reaction, he said, “In the tunnel he goes, ‘You’re not going to let me get 20?’ Sarcastic, but probably serious too.”

Sale has thrown more than 108 pitches numerous times, including six occasions last season as well as on April 28 this year, when he threw 111. His high total is 127 from 2014.

Sale said after the game: “You got 17 punchouts, you definitely want to go out for the last inning. But I respect him as much as anybody on the planet, and I’ll never question anything he does.”

Sale started the game with six straight K’s, and many of his whiffs were of the extremely nasty variety, in some cases making batters look quite bad.

Sale has been one of baseball’s best pitchers, with seven consecutive All-Star selections and six consecutive years as a top-five Cy Young vote-getter. But he started the season with five losses in his first six starts.


“I’m not going to sugarcoat it,” he said April 17. “I just flat-out stink right now. I don’t know what it is.”

He seems to be turning it around in May, though, with three starts, all with double-digit strikeouts, ending with two Red Sox wins and Tuesday’s unfortunate loss.

Sale’s previous high in strikeouts was 15, achieved three times. (The Red Sox lost one of those games, too, to the Toronto Blue Jays in extra innings in May 2018.) The game had the highest strikeout total by a Red Sox player not named Clemens.

The cold weather — 44 degrees at the game’s start — may have been a factor too. Pitchers tend to benefit from cooler temperatures, and all five of the 20-strikeout games in major league history came in April, May or September.


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