Chris Sale pitches into fourth, Red Sox rally for record-tying win
CLEVELAND — First, the important matters. Red Sox ace Chris Sale worked into the fourth inning against the Cleveland Indians on Friday night and continued to build up his stamina in preparation for the postseason.
Set-up man Matt Barnes, out since Sept. 4 with inflammation in his left hip, returned to the mound and threw a scoreless inning, hitting 98 mph with his fastball.
Those two events made it a successful evening for the Sox.
It was on the scoreboard, too. Rookies Sam Travis and Tzu-Wei Lin hit their first major league home runs as the Sox came back to beat the Indians, 7-5.
“That was one of the most enjoyable games of the season,” said manger Alex Cora, who used a lineup of primarily backups a day after the Sox clinched the American League East in New York and arrived here at 4:30 a.m.
Travis was 2 for 4 with three RBIs and Lin 2 for 5 with two RBIs. The Sox also used eight relievers after Sale left the game.
The remaining regular-season goals are just about wrapped up. At 105-49, the Sox have matched the franchise record for victories established in 1912, the first year Fenway Park was open.
“This team goes back a long time. That’s not something you expect to do,” said Brock Holt, who had three hits. “It shows what a special group this is.”
The Sox also need one victory, or a Houston loss, to secure home field advantage throughout the postseason.
Sale got up to 73 pitches, 48 of them strikes, in his third start since being activated off the disabled list. The Sox were hoping the lefthander would get to five innings but he left the game in the fourth after getting one out.
Sale allowed two runs on five hits and struck out seven without a walk.
“It’s weird having a spring-training vibe in the most important part of the season,” he said. “But I’ve said it time and time again, my team has put me in a position to do this.”
Sale’s slider was in top form, but his fastball velocity was a modest 92-94 with a peak of 96. Sale is building velocity in steps after missing essentially six weeks with shoulder inflammation.
“The velocity will come up. It’s more about repetitions,” Cora said. “We saw 94, 95. I really didn’t pay too much attention to it.”
Said Sale: “Obviously right now it’s not overwhelming. It’s still there when I need it. I feel like it’s part of that process, building arm strength and being able to get back to that.”
Sale is scheduled to start Wednesday against Baltimore at Fenway Park. From there, he would throw either an extended bullpen session or simulated game before starting Game 1 of the Division Series on Oct. 5.
Sale had a shutout working until Josh Donaldson homered deep into the left field bleachers with one out in the fourth inning.
That ended a streak of 35 consecutives scoreless innings dating back to July 6. It was the longest streak for a Red Sox pitcher since Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez went 35 innings in 2002.
It also snapped a run of 75 consecutive innings without allowing a home run, the longest of Sale’s career.
When Yandy Diaz followed the home run with a single, Cora summoned Heath Hembree from the bullpen.
Hembree got an out before hanging a curveball that Yan Gomes drove over the high wall in center for his 15th home run.
Hembree has allowed seven runs on nine hits — three of them home runs — over his last seven innings. Once valued for his ability to strand inherited runners, Hembree has come into games with runners on base the last two nights and given up home runs.
Cleveland also had one of its important starters making what amounted to a rehab start.
Trevor Bauer, who had not pitched since Aug. 11 because of a stress fracture in his right leg, faced six batters and threw 34 pitches.
The Sox scored six runs against Cleveland reliever Shane Bieber, coming back from a 4-1 deficit to take the lead.
Travis homered in the third inning, a no-doubter to right field. It took 97 at-bats over parts of two seasons before he connected. Travis added a two-run double in the seventh inning.
“It all starts with getting a good pitch and trying to hit it hard,” Travis said. “Having guys on base there, I want a good pitch I can drive to the outfield, make something happen. It worked out for us.”
Lin’s homer came in the ninth inning.
“I was running down the line saying, ‘Go out, ball, go out,’ ” he said. “I’m so excited I won’t be able to sleep.”
Rafael Devers also homered for the Sox.
Craig Kimbrel got the final three outs for his 42nd save. That matched Derek Lowe (2000) for second-most in team history for a single season. Tom Gordon set the record of 46 in 1998