BOSTON -- The Red Sox desperately needed to find a way to quiet the bats of Seattle, which had already put 17 runs on the board in the first two games of its series at Fenway Park.
Enter Chris Sale, who dominated the Mariners' lineup over seven innings in Sunday's matinee finale as the Red Sox breezed to a 5-0 win in the rubber game.
With a full arsenal on display, the left-hander allowed just four hits and struck out 13 batters, his second highest K tally of the season.
"I think it was his best. He's really tough, even when he's not at his best. So you can imagine what it was looking like today," said Mariners designated hitter Nelson Cruz, who went 1-for-4 with a triple and a strikeout. "He is definitely one of the best in the league and he showed it today. It feels like he's right on top of you. He's got long arms and legs and it feels like the ball is on top of you."
"He controls what he can control, which is go out there and dominate for six, seven, eight innings," added Red Sox manager Alex Cora. "He does a good job staying the course. He works, goes out there and performs."
In a span of 10 batters from the third through fifth innings, Sale punched out eight by way of strikeout and brought his American League leading total to 153 on the year.
The Red Sox's ace also brought the heat, making a 100.4 mph pitch to Mike Zunino in the fifth inning, which at the time registered as his fastest pitch as a starter per Statcast™, until he ticked things up a notch in Zunino's next at-bat, going to 100.5 to record his final strikeout of the day.
"I think it's just getting back into a little bit better rhythm," Sale said of his increase in velocity. "I've been saying the same thing over the last three or four starts -- it's feeling good and getting into that tempo and getting back into a little bit better rhythm than I had been starting the year. I put a lot of work into it. I'm glad where we're at."
It was the second consecutive double-digit strikeout performance for Sale, who has six games with 10-plus K's this season.
"A lot of people get caught up on strikeouts," said Sale. "They're nice, but at the end of the day your job is to pitch as deep into that game as you can and keep as few runs off the board [as possible]."
While Sale was cruising, so too was Mariners starter Marco Gonzales, as a pitchers' duel highlighted the first four innings of play.
After Sale struck out the side in the top of the fifth, the tete-a-tete ended as Boston's bats awoke to the tune of four hits and three runs, with Sandy Leon and Mookie Betts each driving in runs by way of sacrifice flies. Rafael Devers started the scoring with an RBI double.
Mitch Moreland provided some additional cushion with a two-run homer to deep center in the bottom of the sixth, his 11th long ball of the season.
"Mitch, he's been swinging the bat well against lefties. Not surprising there," said Cora. "Overall, a good job by the offense."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Mookie robs one: After Boston grabbed a 3-0 lead in the fifth inning, Seattle threatened to get right back into the game the very next inning. Andrew Romine pushed a bunt single and advanced to second on a fielder's choice, and with two outs Mitch Haniger sent a long fly ball towards the Mariners' bullpen in right field. However, Mookie Betts had alternate plans, and after battling the sun, made a leaping catch to rob Haniger and Seattle of any runs.
"A bloop and a blast can change the game there," said Betts. "So you just try to keep them off the bases while [Sale is] rolling." More >
With the win, the Red Sox captured the season series over Seattle, 4-3. With the teams currently 1-2 in the AL Wild Card standings, that could prove instrumental in determining home-field advantage should the teams finish with identical records and tiebreakers factor into the equation. Boston is 7-1-1 in its last nine season series vs. the Mariners.
HE SAID IT
"I'll take five every time out. I'm not worried about it. Throughout the scale of a whole year, it's all going to even out. There's going to be days where they score five and I give up six, and vice versa. It's a give-and-take game. I have faith in my guys, I know how hard they work, I know the work they put in. I just try to roll with it." -- Sale, on run support
Boston has an off-day on Monday before welcoming the Angels to town for a three-game set. The series will feature two of the game's premier sluggers in Michael Trout and J.D. Martinez, who each have belted 23 home runs on the season. Boston has slated David Price in the opener on Tuesday night, with first pitch scheduled for 7:10 p.m. ET.