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Sale returns to ace form with flurry of K's

Lefty dominates, striking out 12 over six scoreless innings
@IanMBrowne
July 18, 2019

BOSTON -- Chris Sale needed that. He needed every bit of it. The Red Sox? They needed it even more. Sale (4-9, 4.05 ERA) was back in a big way on Thursday afternoon at Fenway Park, throwing his three-start slump to the curb with a masterful performance in which he

BOSTON -- Chris Sale needed that. He needed every bit of it.

The Red Sox? They needed it even more.

Sale (4-9, 4.05 ERA) was back in a big way on Thursday afternoon at Fenway Park, throwing his three-start slump to the curb with a masterful performance in which he beat the Blue Jays, 5-0. It was Sale’s first win at home since July 11, 2018.

Box score

Utterly dominant for most of his career, Sale had been less than that far too often this season. In the three starts that preceded this one, he was 0-2 with an 8.27 ERA.

But that all changed on getaway day, when the lefty pitched like an ace again, allowing two hits over six scoreless innings in which he walked two and struck out 12. Of Sale’s 101 pitches, 67 were for strikes. Sale induced 20 swings and misses, eight of them on sliders. Sale also threw 25 changeups, and got six swings and misses on that pitch, usually an afterthought in his repertoire.

“Just think it was overall command. I had a lot better feel for my changeup today,” Sale said. “That’s something that I really haven’t had all year. I was able to actually use my changeup as an out pitch instead of more just a show pitch. Obviously this game, it’s not easier, but it’s easier the more pitches you can show at it.”

Though he averaged a modest 91.9 mph on his fastball, Sale’s top heater was there when he needed it, as he threw two offerings that purred in at 96 mph.

The entire mix was the best it has been for Sale in some time.

“That’s [pitching coach] Dana [LeVangie] and Chris and Sandy [Leon] and Christian [Vazquez] and all the pitching department,” said Red Sox manager Alex Cora. “It seemed like he had command of his pitches, all of them. Slider was a lot better today. Changeup played today. And the fastball command was there. It was one of those, from the get-go you could see that there was a difference in their swings, and he kept rolling.”

For all the talk about what the 53-44 Red Sox need to do snap out of their inconsistent ways, getting Sale back on track tops the priority list.

The importance of Sale to the team’s overall success was there for all to see earlier this week, when he threw a bullpen session that every member of the rotation and the team’s two catchers went out to watch. Sale had been down on himself lately, and his teammates were there to support him.

As it turns out, a Red Sox pitching legend also had some advice for Sale.

“This past week was obviously big for me, coming off three of the worst starts of my career and really trying to turn it around, and guys picking me up and having my back and trying to point me in the right direction,” said Sale. “Not only that, but the coaching staff, too. And I got some words of wisdom from Luis [Tiant]. That never hurts.”

What did El Tiante tell Sale?

“I can’t spill my beans,” said Sale. “I can’t give up the secrets.”

It was no secret that the Red Sox hadn’t been giving Sale much in the way of run support, which has had a big impact on his record. Entering play on Thursday, Sale had a run-support average of 3.70, more than two runs lower than any other member of the rotation.

Through the first four innings, the game remained scoreless. But the Boston bats came through with four runs in the fifth, three of them coming from the latest big blast by Rafael Devers, a three-run shot to right that powered through the wind that was blowing in.

Sale came back with a shutdown sixth and the bullpen took it home.

And finally, Sale had another Fenway win.

“Yeah, long overdue,” Sale said. “Like I said, nobody else to blame but myself, but obviously glad to get this one out of the way, and now we can just focus on what’s ahead and keep the ball rolling and have a happy flight, get on the plane and get down to Baltimore and start off on the right foot down there.”

When Sale is in top form, Boston’s footing always feels more stable.

Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.