Sale 'empties the tank' to help Red Sox to series win

Lefty goes five scoreless; Yoshida, Duvall homer in finale vs. Kansas City

September 4th, 2023

KANSAS CITY -- Alex Cora gave Chris Sale an ultimatum.

Boston’s manager walked to the mound with the intention to take out Sale with two outs in the fifth inning. Sale disagreed, so Cora gave the veteran lefty an opportunity to finish his outing, but with one clear message: “Throw strikes.”

Sale responded with his second-fastest pitch of the day before ramping up the radar gun even more with a Sunday-best 96.8 mph fastball. The heater was 1.5 mph faster than any other pitch he threw, and he got out of the inning with a slider to help the Red Sox earn a 7-3 series-clinching win over the Royals at Kauffman Stadium.

Sale’s average velocity was down two to three mph on all three pitches during a nearly 100 degree day in Kansas City, but he gave it all he had to Maikel Garcia to earn his first victory since May 16.

“Getting through that [fifth inning] was going to be big for me and [Cora] gave me words of encouragement, to say the least,” Sale said.

“ … If I’m going to tell him I’m going to do something for him, you got to do it. I just kind of emptied the tank there at that point.”

When Cora went to the mound, Sale was sitting at 97 pitches. It was the most pitches he had thrown in a game since May 20, and a six-pitch walk to Dairon Blanco brought the top of the order back up. But it didn’t matter. Sale wanted to finish what he had started.

“He begged for one [more batter],” Cora said. “As soon as he put his glove over his mouth he was like, ‘Just give me this one.’ He’s done it before. Sometimes we agree and sometimes we don’t. He knows, we talk about it before the outing.

“I was in between, seeing where we were at, and he convinced me.”

It ended up being the right decision, and Sale got Garcia to ground out to cap five scoreless frames. Sale’s start against the Royals was the first time he didn’t allow a run this season and it was the first time in 22 starts (James Paxton, Aug. 10) that a Boston starter tossed a scoreless outing.

After six straight games without a starter going five innings, Boston has gotten back-to-back five-inning starts from Tanner Houck and Sale.

“We needed that. We can’t keep going 4 2/3 [innings],” Cora said. “It was a big one. I feel comfortable with where [Sale] is at physically. I know velocity was down the whole day and he grinded. It seems like the last game in Kansas City the last few years is a tough one, weather-wise, energy-wise, so I’m glad we got the ‘W’ and [Sale] was good for us.”

Sale matched his longest start since his return from the IL and generated 16 whiffs on 45 swings. He allowed just two hits, both on the changeup, but 17 foul balls and 63 pitches through the first three innings limited his outing.

“You want to get deeper into games, so hopefully next time it’s 100 pitches over seven or eight innings,” Sale said. “ … I felt like there was a lot of 2-2, 3-2 counts. A lot of foul balls ... but nice to come out on top. [Masataka Yoshida] came out and set the tone with a three-run homer.”

Yoshida, who entered batting just .253 in the second half, clobbered his first dinger since Aug. 18 with a 415-foot liner in the fourth. He also hit an opposite-field single in the second in what the Red Sox hope is the start of a turnaround that will only bolster their high-powered offense.

“[Yoshida] has been feeling better the last few days,” Cora said. “He’s been grinding on a few things, but I think little by little his swing is getting back. He took some good cuts in his third at-bat. He let it fly. So those are good signs.”

Despite the series win, the Red Sox remained 5 1/2 games back of the final American League Wild Card spot. If Boston is going to play in October, the team will need strong starting pitching. If Sale can continue to show he still has a few tricks up his sleeve, he may just spark a struggling rotation.

“We prepared ourselves for a different play. I think he changed his plan today,” Royals catcher Salvador Perez said. “Chris Sale is one of the best left-handers in the league. … I don’t think he usually throws that many offspeed.

“I don’t think we realized. Maybe he saw something, maybe they saw something, and he had a pretty good day today.”