Chris Sale was feeling it, and the Red Sox won their ninth straight
The Texas Rangers had runners on first and third with no outs in the sixth inning on Wednesday night with Adrian Beltre coming to the plate. Chris Sale was being challenged for the first time.
How he met that challenge provided some of the best entertainment at Fenway Park all season.
Sale struck out the estimable Beltre on five pitches, the last a high fastball he just couldn’t resist. Rougned Odor followed with a sharply hit ball back to the mound.
Sale snared the one-hopper and fired to shortstop Xander Bogaerts to start a double play.
As the capacity crowd roared, Sale pumped his fist and shouted a few words into his glove he admitted later he didn’t want his mom to see on television.
“He was fired up,” Bogaerts said. “That throw to me had something on it.”
The Sox were on their way to a 4-2 victory, their ninth in a row. Sale threw seven shutout innings and struck out 12 in his final start before the All-Star break.
The 65-29 Sox have the best record in baseball and in Sale they have the most fearsome starter. Sale leads the majors with 188 strikeouts and has an 0.94 earned run average in his last seven starts.
Sale has struck out 11 or more with no more than one walk in five consecutive starts, the longest such streak in major league history. He also has worked 51 consecutive innings without allowing a home run.
“He told me after the game, ‘That felt good tonight,’ ” manager Alex Cora said. “It was a little bit different out there. It was a fun crowd. They got into it.”
The reaction of the fans had pitching coach Dana LeVangie remembering those days when every start Pedro Martinez made at Fenway was an event.
“The energy in the ballpark,” LeVangie said. “You never know what you might miss if you’re not watching.”
Like Martinez so willingly did when he pitched, Sale takes it all in.
“You feel that. I feel that,” he said. “I feel like I try and use that as much as I can in my favor. I like pitching here and I appreciate the fans coming out and bringing the energy with them.”
Now comes some rest. Sale is a candidate to start the All-Star Game Tuesday or pitch an inning at some point.
Beyond that, he will get at least eight days in a row off and probably a few more once the Sox set their rotation.
The plan is to have a rested and recharged Sale ready for the final 10 weeks of the season.
“You don’t just want to sit on your butt for eight days. But you try to be smart,” Sale said.
Sale left the mound with a 4-0 lead and Fenway buzzing. Then it became tense. On a night Joe Kelly and Matt Barnes weren’t available, Heath Hembree allowed two runs on three hits.
Craig Kimbrel came in with the bases loaded and two outs and walked Robinson Chirinos to force in a run before striking out Joey Gallo to end the threat.
“I hate to put him in that corner,” Cora said of Kimbrel. “It just happened so quick . . . I want to give him margin for error.”
Kimbrel struck out the side in the ninth on 13 pitches for his 28th save, the third with four outs.
Sox pitchers struck out 18, their most in a nine-inning game since May 25, 2017. That was against the Rangers, naturally.
The Sox are 36 games over .500 for the first time since Oct. 1, 1978. If you don’t know what happened after that, don’t ask.
Players on the Red Sox roster had 62 career plate appearances against 45-year-old Texas starter Bartolo Colon coming into the game. That was one fewer than their coaching staff.
For four innings, Colon hung in there against Sale, as the Sox were hitless in eight at-bats with runners in scoring position against him. The only run he allowed was the product of two errors in the second inning.
The top of the Sox order, as it so often has this season, finally got the offense going in the fifth.
Mookie Betts and Andrew Benintendi had one-out singles to left field.
J.D. Martinez followed with a double down the line in left and both runners scored. Martinez now has 79 RBIs in the 88 games he has played.
With two outs, Bogaerts hit a ball softly to left-center that should have been caught. Gallo, the left fielder, had a play but was cut off by center fielder Delino DeShields.
As the ball rolled away, Bogaerts had an RBI triple. After going 73 games without a triple, Bogaerts has had them on consecutive nights.
Colon (5-7) went six innings and allowed four runs (three earned) on nine hits.