The Red Sox returned from an underwhelming road trip during which they were eliminated from playoff contention to rally late and produce a winning effort Friday night, beating the long-out-of-it White Sox, 3-2, at Fenway Park.
There are eight games remaining between now and the Red Sox’ offseason.
This wasn’t the September that Chris Sale envisioned. It wasn’t supposed to look or feel like this.
The chilly air Friday evening at Fenway was supposed to signal meaningful baseball. A buildup, if you will, to a potential postseason run. Sale’s early reinstatement from the injured list was supposed to fuel that playoff push.
But the starters, including Sale, underperformed. The bats went cold. The defense remained a wreck.
The underwhelming play led to a series opener against the White Sox where the house was packed (37,102) but stale. You could hear the apathy in the fans’ tone. It led to Sale’s performance, where he yielded just three hits across five scoreless innings while striking out seven and walking one.
But what does that production mean — and, moreover, who cares — when it comes in consolation?
“We’re still athletes and competitors,” Sale said. “So, no matter what may or may not be coming, we still want to go out there and take pride in what we do and play the game the right way, play the game hard and play to win.”
Sale added that his command was inconsistent, which, in part, was the reason he needed 90 pitches. Yet the efficacy was still there. He walked only one and all three hits allowed were singles. From the second inning through the fourth, he retired nine consecutive batters.
Sale’s four-seam fastball sat at 94 miles per hour (his yearly average), an uptick from his previous start when it sat around 91.
“It’s part of one of those things of building up,” he said. “I had some things to take care of over the last few weeks. Obviously, [the last start] was a step in the right direction last week and with this one, too. I’m just trying to maintain that and keep putting up zeros because we know with this offense, we’re eventually going to score. There’s no doubt about that.”
Sale didn’t have much help offensively until the completion of his outing. Tim Anderson allowed Trevor Story to reach base to start the bottom of the fifth after the Chicago shortstop couldn’t get the ball out of his glove on a grounder. Story’s feet beat Anderson’s throw to first for a single.
Bobby Dalbec made it two singles in a row off White Sox starter Touki Toussaint before Connor Wong put down a sacrifice bunt that moved both runners into scoring position. Ceddanne Rafaela’s sacrifice fly plated the first run of the contest.
Garrett Whitlock had the sixth inning, allowing the White Sox to tie it on Andrew Vaughn’s RBI infield single and take a 2-1 lead on Trayce Thompson’s double to center field. Whitlock stayed in the game to work a scoreless seventh.
With one out and the bases loaded in the home half of the eighth following a hit by pitch, single, and walk, Adam Duvall brought in the tying run with a sacrifice fly to right. Masataka Yoshida followed with a single to right drive in the go-ahead run.
Chris Martin shut the door in the ninth for his third save, lowering his ERA to 1.05 on the year. Martin has allowed only one run in his last 36 outings.
“It’s been a year and a half of domination for him from when he got to the Dodgers” manager Alex Cora said. “He’s healthy. He makes quality pitches. It’s not about throwing strikes, it’s quality strikes. He can go anywhere in the strike zone. He changes speed. Like I told you guys a while ago, since 2019 I was like, ‘Man, that guy would be great here.’ ”
As for Sale, Friday marked back-to-back promising starts for the lefthander, who went six innings and struck out 10 in his previous start against the Blue Jays. He will make one more start, giving him the chance to finish the season on a positive, certainly, and most importantly, healthy.
“That’s the main focus,” Sale said. “I want to finish the season strong and not go into the offseason rehabbing something.”
That wasn’t always the main focus. That wasn’t why he returned in August.