Chris Sale made a sparkling debut for the Red Sox on Wednesday night, firing seven scoreless innings. Five of his teammates in the bullpen were just as impressive, and all were needed.
The Red Sox finally took advantage of what was outstanding pitching in the bottom of the 12th inning when Sandy Leon blasted a walkoff home run to left field for a 3-0 victory. It was the first walkoff hit of Leon’s career.
“Awesome, awesome. After a long game like that you’re just trying get a win for the team. Keep it simple and get a pitch to hit,” said Leon, who hammered a fastball from Antonio Bastardo that was left over the plate.
Leon flung his helmet in the air as he crossed home plate. After struggling at the plate for much of spring training, he has five hits in his first eight at-bats of the season.
Red Sox pitchers held the Pirates to five hits and struck out nine with one walk. Remarkably, Pittsburgh did not advance a runner past first base.
It was the longest shutout at Fenway Park for the Sox since a 3-0, 13-inning victory against the Minnesota Twins on July 15, 1971. Rico Petrocelli homered to win that game for Bill Lee.
“An outstanding night from the mound,” manager John Farrell said. “Thought Sandy ran a great game behind the plate, as well.”
The Red Sox are 2-0 for the first time since 2013. Weather permitting they will try for the sweep on Thursday afternoon with Eduardo Rodriguez facing Chad Kuhl.
Jackie Bradley Jr. drew a one-out walk to start the winning rally. He was picked off by Bastardo but stole second base when first baseman Phil Gosselin bounced the throw.
“I was trying to make something happen,” Bradley said. “Trying to be a playmaker. I put it on my shoulders to advance to the next base and take us out of the double play and get in scoring position.”
Pablo Sandoval also walked, bringing up Leon.
On a night when Mookie Betts, Brock Holt, and reliever Robbie Ross Jr. were unavailable because of illness, an extra-inning game was not what the Red Sox wanted.
“We were a little but strapped but we were able to come out on top,” Farrell said.
Matt Barnes, Craig Kimbrel, Heath Hembree, Robby Scott, and Joe Kelly followed Sale to the mound. The Pirates never came close to scoring.
“It was incredible and it all started from pitch one with Sale,” Barnes said. “Then the bullpen came in and kept putting up zeros. With our offense it usually doesn’t take 12 innings the way they swing the bat. But we’re the kind of team, we pick each other up.”
In a scoreless game, the Sox went to Kimbrel in the ninth inning against the top of the Pittsburgh order. Leadoff hitter Jordy Mercer grounded to the left side, but Sandoval could not pick the ball up and was charged with his second error of the season.
The Pirates tried to bunt and Starling Marte popped up to Sandoval in foul ground. Andrew McCutchen grounded to second and the Sox took out the lead runner as Dustin Pedroia made a nice pickup on a hard-hit ball. Gregory Polanco then grounded to second.
Pittsburgh pitchers had retired nine in a row before Bradley (2 for 4) singled with one out in the 10th. Batting righthanded for the first time this season, Sandoval struck out swinging at a high fastball. Leon dumped a soft single into right field and Bradley took third. Pedroia walked to load the bases for Andrew Benintendi, but he grounded to second.
Kelly, who lost Farrell’s trust at the end of spring training, emerged from the bullpen in the 11th inning and worked two innings for the win.
It was 40 degrees when Sale threw his first pitch, but he was wearing only short sleeves under his No. 41 jersey. The crowd of 36,137 was with Sale from the start, enthusiastically cheering when his first pitch was called a strike. They then snuggled deeper into their parkas to see what the new guy had in store for them.
Sale was dominant, allowing three hits with one walk and seven strikeouts. The Pirates hit no more than five or six balls hard.
“It’s a long time to play. Obviously didn’t sign up for 12 but it was nice to get the win,” Sale said. “All the better having your catcher go out there and walk it off. It’s special.”
Sale threw 69 of his 104 pitches for strikes and had 14 swings-and-misses. The Red Sox could not have asked for more.
“Glad he’s on our side. God, thank you,” Bradley said. “His utter determination to win. You can see it. He really wants to be the best.”
Sale issued his only walk in the seventh inning when David Freese took first with two outs. Francisco Cervelli swung at the next pitch and popped to right field. The crowd cheered as Sale left the mound, knowing his night was done.
“Walking off in the seventh inning, that’s another feeling I’ll never forget. That’s special; that’s awesome,” he said.
Pirates starter Jameson Taillon was the second overall pick of the 2010 draft, right after Bryce Harper. Sale wasn’t taken for another 11 picks. Facing Sale for the first time, he was up to the challenge.
Leon doubled with two outs in the third inning, driving a ball down the line in right field into the corner. Pedroia followed with a single to right field and coach Brian Butterfield tried to hold Leon up as he came around third base.
Leon kept chugging and was easily thrown out by McCutchen. With Benintendi on deck, it was an especially egregious mistake by Leon. But he made up for it.
“It was a great win considering everything,” Bradley said.