The Red Sox, a team ravaged by COVID-19, slowly are beginning to get their players back.
After having their season at stake some weeks ago, the Sox figured out a way to navigate what seemed to be a sinking ship. They landed not on the hope of winning the American League East — that will ultimately be earned by the Rays — but a wild-card spot. They inched closer to that Friday evening at Fenway Park.
The Red Sox beat the Orioles, 7-1, to begin their pivotal eight-game homestand. The Orioles registered their 100th loss of the season and the Sox have beaten them 10 times in 14 meetings.
“That’s what we need to do,” manager Alex Cora said. “You have to put teams away. It’s been a grind for a while. The wins have been close and the ones we lose, too.”
The Red Sox reinstated Chris Sale from the COVID-related injured list prior to his Friday start. Following a 1-2-3 first, Austin Hays stung an inside fastball for a homer, putting the Red Sox behind, 1-0. That would be the only lead the Orioles would hold.
In the second, Christian Vázquez steered a double down the left-field line off Orioles starter Keegan Akin. An Alex Verdugo single put runners at first and third, setting the stage for Jose Iglesias, whose ground-rule double scored Vázquez. Verdugo later scored on a sacrifice fly.
After a scoreless third, the Red Sox brought across at least one run in the following three frames, beginning with Bobby Dalbec’s solo homer that just made it over the Green Monster. Dalbec’s 23rd homer is the seventh-most by a Sox rookie, surpassing Carlton Fisk and Jim Rice.
J.D. Martinez’s RBI double in the fifth stretched the Sox lead to 4-1. A bases-clearing double by Hunter Renfroe in the sixth all but put the Orioles out of their misery.
It was an atypical start by Sale, not based on results but pitch mix. Sale was effective, navigating through five innings. The second-inning homer proved to be Sale’s only blemish. Yet Sale used his four-seam fastball just 27 times. His slider, meanwhile, was his go-to pitch, weaponizing it 40 times. After the second inning, Sale dumped his four-seamer, a pitch that averaged a tick down at 91.6 miles per hour.
“I’ve been sitting mainly 93, 94, 95 in games and I’ve had games where I’m sitting mainly 91-92,” Sale said. “Those days the hitter is going to tell you everything that you really need to know about a given day.”
Which is why Sale leaned on his slider.
“That’s always been one of my put-away pitches, strikeout pitch,” Sale said. “I feel like this year, I’ve been able to locate it a little bit better at times.”
The lefthander registered just one strikeout but induced nine groundouts. Garrett Whitlock took over in the sixth, then Hirokazu Sawamura came on in the seventh. Both collected scoreless innings. Matt Barnes put up a zero in the eighth in his first game back from the COVID-IL.
In the tight wild-card race that has the imprints of the AL East all over it, the Red Sox own the top wild-card spot with a half-game lead over the Yankees and a one-game margin over the Blue Jays. The Yankees won, 8-0, against the Indians Friday and the Jays dropped a 7-3 contest to the Twins.
If the season ended Friday, the Red Sox would host the Yankees in the Wild Card Game. Yet the standings change daily, speaking to just how even and close this chase to October really is.
“This is why you do it,” Barnes said. “You do it to get to the postseason for a chance to win a World Series.”
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