Tottling around the clubhouse in a bite-sized No. 41 jersey, Chris Sale’s 2-year-old son had an important question after the Red Sox’ 3-0 win over the Los Angeles Angels Thursday night: “Daddy, can we eat?’’
“I got to eat,’’ Sale told him on their way out.
After throwing eight shutout innings in which he gave up only two hits, walked none, and struck out 13, Sale was deserving of a feast. The K’s displayed in center field were plentiful — the most the Fenway Park crowd has seen from the 30-year-old lefthander since May 14. In fact, they helped Sale make history, as he became the 15th pitcher to log seven major league seasons with more than 200 strikeouts.
“He was lights-out,’’ said first baseman Sam Travis. “It’s not as easy as he made it look tonight, I’ll tell you that. He did an unbelievable job.’’
Sale’s impressive pitching performance is certainly reminiscent of the successes he’s had in years past, although nights such as Thursday have been few and far between this season. In his last two starts, both against the Yankees, Sale lasted a combined nine innings and gave up 14 hits and 14 earned runs. The dreadful outings have assembled the worst record and the highest ERA of his 10-year career.
Nobody:— Red Sox (@RedSox) August 9, 2019
Chris Sale: KKKKKKKKKKKKK pic.twitter.com/tmT70XNJKC
On Thursday, the alarm bells could have sounded as early as the first inning when Angels designated hitter Shohei Ohtani reached second on a funky hit that managed to stay fair along the third-base line. But Sale stranded the runner in scoring position, promptly striking out the next batter, left fielder Justin Upton, to end the inning.
Upton would end up being the first of 16 straight outs for Sale, who worked efficiently and threw just 53 pitches over five frames.
“When he gets rolling, he’s rolling,’’ manager Alex Cora said.
The only other hit of the night came from center fielder Mike Trout on a single to left field to kick off the seventh inning. Sale never wavered, however, proceeding to strike out the next three batters that came to the plate. On his final pitch of the inning, a four-seam fastball that caught first baseman Albert Pujols swinging, he reached 98.4 miles per hour for his hardest-thrown pitch of the year.
At what point did Sale realize that the night was going to be a good one? Not until his very last pitch: a 97-mile-per-hour fastball that fanned shortstop Wilfredo Tovar in the eighth inning.
“You never get complacent,’’ Sale said. “You never want to cash it in, I guess you could say. You look at the names they got in that lineup. At any given time — we got three runs — you make a mistake here, you make a mistake there, and they’re right back in it. You’ve got to stay locked in.’’
Cora praised all three of Sale’s pitch types — his slider, fastball, and changeup — and noted it was encouraging to see the increased velocity.
So, can the two-time AL strikeout leader keep this momentum going?
He and Cora hope so.
“You never want to say that you’ve figured it out, but it’s a step in the right direction,’’ Sale said. “Hopefully, I’ll be able to keep doing what I’m doing because we obviously have an uphill battle, but we still think we have a shot and we’re all still fighting in here.’’
“We have to wait for the next one,’’ added Cora. “Everybody’s going to be asking if he can do it again at the next one. This is August. There’s a lot of question marks for the right reasons obviously, but at least for today, he looked great.’’