It’s rare that three runs is enough for this version of the Red Sox.
It’s rare that Sam Travis and Sandy Leon propel the Sox’ offense. This season, at least, the Red Sox have searched for but haven’t quite found the Chris Sale of old, so it’s fair to say a game in which he goes eight innings and strikes out 13 is rare, too.
But on Thursday night, rare was the norm. The Sox were timely and displayed sheer dominance and execution in a 3-0 win over the Los Angeles Angels at Fenway Park.
Travis and Leon homered, and Sale dazzled for eight. The game was the Sox’ shortest of the year: 2 hours and 16 minutes.
“Honestly, when I got to the clubhouse, I was like, ‘What do we do now?’ ” manager Alex Cora joked afterward. “We have so much time, I can play with my kids at home.”
This was the Sale the Sox had been waiting on. Sure, Sale historically owns the Angels. Thursday’s performance only added to that. He’s now 7-0 against them with a 1.06 ERA in 10 career games, including eight starts.
But after last Saturday’s outing against the Yankees, when he got hit around for eight runs in just 3⅔ innings, you questioned if Sale would ever find it.
“You never want to say you figured it out,” Sale said. “But it was a step in the right direction. I hope to be able to keep doing what I’m doing because obviously we’re in an uphill battle, but we still think we have a shot. We’re all still playing in here.”
For Sale, cruising might be an understatement in this one. He was electric. The only extra-base hit he surrendered came on a Shohei Ohtani dribbler in the first inning that third baseman Rafael Devers decided to let go foul. However, it stayed fair and went into short left field, giving Ohtani enough time to reach second for a double. Sale retired the next 16 batters until Mike Trout — who struck out twice against Sale — singled to start the seventh.
“He had good stuff tonight,” Trout said. “He was painting on me, I’ll tell you that. It’s just a battle, a grind. He had his [velocity]. He looked the same to me.”
Cora didn’t go into detail, but he said the entire staff worked tirelessly to get Sale back to that point. But with the struggles and inconsistent outings Sale has turned in this season, his manager didn’t quite call it a comeback just yet.
“We have to wait for the next [start],” Cora said. “It’s been like that the whole time. Everybody is going to be asking if he can do it again. There’s a lot of question marks for the right reasons obviously, but at least for today, he looked great.”
Travis’s two-run homer in the second off Angels lefthander Dillon Peters gave the Red Sox a 2-0 lead. Leon followed with a solo shot in the fifth. Otherwise, the Sox’ offense struggled. They mustered just five hits, with Mookie Betts, Devers, and Xander Bogaerts, the first three batters in the order, going a combined 0 for 11.
“It’s good to be able to contribute when called upon,” Travis said. “You have to stay ready.”
Said Cora: “Good swing by Sam. First-pitch attacking, and Sandy gets on top of a fastball. We’ve got some guys right now, they are struggling. But that was a good baseball game.”
A good game that included timely hitting from Travis and Leon, and a dominant Sale. It’s part of what made the Sox a championship team last season, and part of what’s been absent during this one.
Sale added an exclamation point to his outing in the eighth inning, striking out Wilfredo Tovar swinging on a fastball registered at 97 miles per hour.
“That’s the Sale I saw over the years in the Central [Division],” said Angels manager Brad Ausmus, who managed the Tigers for three seasons when Sale was with the White Sox. “I know this hasn’t been a vintage Chris Sale year. But when I’ve watched him on TV he doesn’t look that different to me. He still can reach back for velocity.”