KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Red Sox manager Alex Cora planned to take Chris Sale out of the game when he came to the mound with two outs in the bottom of the fifth inning on Sunday afternoon.
The lefthander hadn’t given up a run but was struggling with his command and flagging velocity on a 95-degree day at Kauffman Stadium.
Before Cora could say anything, Sale asked for one more batter.
Were it any other pitcher, Cora would have asked for the ball and cut off any discussion. But Sale has earned his second chances.
“Throw strikes,” Cora said before patting Sale on the chest and going back to the dugout.
There may have been a few adjectives thrown in there, too.
“Words of encouragement, to say the least,” Sale said.
Facing Maikel Garcia, Sale threw a fastball off the outside corner charitably called a strike by umpire Jim Wolf. Then came a 96.8-mile-per-hour fastball — Sale’s best of the day — that was taken for strike two.
Sale came back with a slider that didn’t quite break as much as he wanted but was grounded to shortstop to end the inning.
The Sox went on to a 7-3 victory and Sale had his first win since May 26.
Sale is the player Cora has managed the longest and their relationship is one of mutual respect. The starter appreciated the reprieve.
“If I’m going to tell him I’m going to do something for him, you’ve got to do it,” Sale said. “Kind of emptied the tank there, definitely.”
Sale (6-3) threw 100 pitches, 64 for strikes. The Royals drew only two walks but they fouled off 17 pitches, making Sale work for every out.
His fastball velocity was nearly two miles per hour slower than his previous start and he fell behind in the count to eight of the 19 batters he faced.
“I feel comfortable where he’s at physically,” Cora said. “I know the velocity was down the whole day and he grinded. It was a tough one.”
It was the 120th win of Sale’s career. Thirteen have come against the Royals, two more than any other opponent over his 13 seasons in the majors.
The Sox (71-66) took two of three in the series. On Monday afternoon, they open a three-game set at Tampa Bay.
In a scoreless game, Justin Turner drew a leadoff walk against Zack Greinke in the fourth inning. Triston Casas followed with a double to left field that was misplayed by Samad Taylor. With one out, Masataka Yoshida lined a changeup over the wall in right field for his 14th home run and fourth since the All-Star break.
Greinke (1-14) allowed three runs over 3⅔ innings, grunting as he threw nearly every pitch. There was little separation between his fastball and changeup. Taylor Clarke opened for the Royals and gave way to Greinke after one inning.
Adam Duvall added a solo homer off Austin Cox in the sixth inning. He has 19 homers over only 74 games and 256 at-bats.
Duvall has started 15 consecutive games and played in 25 of the last 26. For a player who has dealt with a variety of injuries in recent years, that’s meaningful.
“I always want to be available. I want to show up; I want to prepare for the game; I want to play the game the right way and I want the manager to be able to pencil me in,” Duvall said. “That’s important for me.”
In the seventh, the Sox scored one run on a throwing error and another on Turner’s sacrifice fly. Rafael Devers brought home the seventh run with an RBI double in the ninth.
Turner has come to the plate with a runner in scoring position and less than two outs 38 times this season and driven in 33 runs. He’s 15 for 30 with six sacrifice flies and only five strikeouts.
The Sox used four relievers for an inning each following Sale. That included Kenley Jansen, who had not pitched since Wednesday. Veteran closers aren’t generally big fans of non-save situations and Jansen allowed two runs on three hits.
Alex Verdugo left the game in the sixth inning with tightness in his left hamstring. The right fielder expects only to miss a day or two.