BOSTON -- Chris Sale joined a list of baseball’s elite on Thursday.
With a 95.3 mph four-seam fastball that caught Angels second baseman Luis Rengifo looking in the fifth inning, the left-hander became just the fifth pitcher to record 200-plus strikeouts in seven consecutive seasons in the Red Sox’s 3-0 win.
Walter Johnson (1910-16), Tom Seaver (1968-76), Roger Clemens (1986-92) and Max Scherzer (2012-18) are the only others to achieve that feat.
“It’s something he’s not going to talk about because he’s not that kind of guy,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said. “But it’s amazing what he’s done throughout his career.”
Sale, who was acquired by the Red Sox from the White Sox in the winter of 2016, is also just the third pitcher in team history to reach 200-plus K’s in three or more seasons. Clemens accomplished it in eight seasons, while Pedro Martinez did it six times with Boston.
“It’s special,” Sale said. “I appreciate it. Obviously with how this entire season has unfolded personally, I wish it was something else, but I appreciate the fact that all my teammates, all my catchers, pitching coaches, coaches along the way helped me reach that goal. It’s cool.”
In his 24th start of the season, Sale recorded 13 strikeouts over eight scoreless innings. He only allowed two hits, and he threw 99 pitches, 67 of them for strikes. His seventh-inning strikeout of Albert Pujols clocked in at 98.4 mph, his fastest pitch all season.
“He was getting ahead of the count,” Red Sox catcher Sandy Leon said. “He was throwing the fastball to both sides of the zone -- inside, outside. He was able to spin some up and then breaking ball down. It was really fun to catch him today.”
Sale set the tone for the evening when he struck out Mike Trout in the second at-bat of the game. He fanned the Angels star twice, and the Red Sox left-hander retired 16 straight batters from the last out of the first inning through the last out of the sixth.
“That’s why he’s an ace,” Trout said. “He’s got good stuff. He can mix it up with his fastball speeds and keeps you off-balance. Once you get to two strikes, he can pump one up to 98. So it’s just a tough at-bat. You can’t miss your pitch on him.”
Sale looked like a far different pitcher on Thursday than he has at several points throughout the season. He began the year 0-5 and didn’t earn his first win at home until July 18. Along the way, he called his performances “flat-out embarrassing" and "as bad as it gets,” among other descriptions.
Reaching the milestone was a bounceback from Sale's struggles as recently as Sunday, when he was ejected from his start against the Yankees. Cora credited a total team effort for working with Sale between outings. The final product on Thursday was rewarding.
“Any time you get results, it’s satisfying,” Sale said. “Especially when you see what you’ve been doing has made you unsuccessful, and you look at what’s made you successful. You kind of trash the one and pick up the other.”
Sale put together his longest start allowing two hits or fewer since Aug. 8, 2017, exactly two years ago, against the Rays. If all the work he is putting in pays off, he won’t have to wait that long again, especially at this point in the season. Cora considers Sale “a big part of the equation” for the Red Sox to reach their goals as they fight for a playoff berth.
“You never want to say that you figured it out, but it’s a step in the right direction,” Sale said. “I hope to be able to keep doing what I’m doing, because obviously we’ve got an uphill battle. But I still think we’ve got a shot, and we’re all still fighting here.”