BOSTON -- Chris Sale's latest pitching clinic helped deliver the Red Sox a 4-1 victory over the Twins in Monday night's opener of a four-game series between two teams that started the day in first place in their respective divisions.The lanky lefty allowed four hits and a run over 6
BOSTON -- Chris Sale's latest pitching clinic helped deliver the Red Sox a 4-1 victory over the Twins in Monday night's opener of a four-game series between two teams that started the day in first place in their respective divisions.
The lanky lefty allowed four hits and a run over 6 1/3 innings, walking two and striking out nine. It was Sale's 14th quality start in his 16 outings with the Red Sox. Picking up steam in his quest to be an All-Star for the sixth time, Sale improved to 10-3 while lowering his ERA to 2.77.
"It's a treat for us to see him pitch every fifth or sixth day," said Red Sox manager John Farrell.
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"It's what we've seen many times," said Twins manager Paul Molitor. "The biggest trouble we had was with that slider, especially down and in to righties. He was good. He strikes people out, puts the ball in play and keeps the game moving."
The victory allowed the Red Sox to remain in a virtual tie with the Yankees for first place in the American League East. The Twins, meanwhile, fell to second place in the AL Central, a half-game behind the Indians, who defeated Texas.
A tight game throughout, Boston provided some separation with two runs in the seventh on an RBI single by Dustin Pedroia and a sacrifice fly by Mitch Moreland.
Up until that point, Twins starter Jose Berrios held his own in the matchup with Sale. The righty (7-2, 2.98 ERA) wound up allowing eight hits and four runs over 6 1/3 innings.
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"We're all really confident that he's on a good track," Molitor said. "He came in and gave us every opportunity to win a game in Fenway against Chris Sale."
The insurance came right after Richard Hembree helped get Sale out of a two-on, one-out jam in the top of the seventh.
After Matt Barnes struck out all three batters he faced in the eighth, closer Craig Kimbrel continued his season-long dominance in the ninth and picked up his 21st save in 22 opportunities.
"You saw what they did there tonight," said Sale. "'Heater' coming in there getting a huge double play. Barnes doing what we know he can do. Craig just continuing to go up there and do what he does."
A two-run first by Boston and a solo shot by Minnesota's Chris Gimenez in the third accounted for the only scoring in the first six innings.
"I felt good," said Sale. "Just trying to, as usual, find a rhythm, get in a groove. And when your guys score early for you, it's nice, settles you down a little bit, allows you to go out and throw some strikes."
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Moreland provides early lift: Sale was able to pitch with a lead for most of his start, thanks to Moreland, who smoked a solo homer over the Green Monster with two outs in the first. The blast came right after Xander Bogaerts grounded into a 6-4-3 double play, which scored Mookie Betts with the game's first run. According to Statcast™, the drive by Moreland had a projected distance of 406 feet. It was the 12th home run of the season for Moreland, tying him with Betts for the team lead.
"Obviously, we got the double play and they got the run, but that's OK because we got two outs," Berrios said. "But then with Moreland, he made a good swing and I tried to pitch a two-seamer to him, and he was able to get a good swing on it and it went out."
Farrell's decision pays off: With his 108th pitch of the night, Sale struck out Jorge Polanco in the seventh, but there were still two on with just the one out. There will be many occasions this season when Farrell allows Sale to get himself out of an inning like that. But this time, he went to Hembree and it paid off. The sinkerballer induced Gimenez to ground into a 5-4-3 double play to end the threat.
"It was a cutter," Gimenez said. "That's the one that's going to haunt me tonight because he got away with it. That's why hitting is so tough. He can do everything right or wrong and still get away with it. He left that one over the middle of the plate and I let him off the hook." More >
"He's kind of become a bedrock in our lineup." -- Farrell, on Moreland's strong first season with the Red Sox
"Bring him on whenever." -- Molitor, after being asked if he's glad to have Sale, a former White Sox pitcher, out of the AL Central
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With 155 strikeouts, Sale holds a sizable lead in the AL over Tampa Bay's Chris Archer, who has 126. Sale's strikeout total is already the third highest in Red Sox history before the All-Star break, trailing Roger Clemens (186 in 1988) and Pedro Martinez (184 in 1999).
Twins: Left-hander Hector Santiago makes his first start since June 6 when he comes off the disabled list to face the Red Sox on Tuesday. Santiago is 3-3 with a 3.05 ERA in his career against Boston. First pitch is scheduled for 6:10 p.m. CT.
Red Sox: Left-hander Thomas Pomeranz will try to produce his third consecutive quality start when he takes the ball for the 7:10 p.m. ET contest at Fenway Park. Last time out in Kansas City, Pomeranz gave up six hits and two runs over 6 1/3 innings, walking one and striking out five. He left in position to get the win, but Boston's bullpen couldn't hang on so he settled for a no-decision.
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Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.
Evan Chronis is a reporter for MLB.com and covered the Twins on Monday.