DETROIT -- The Chris Sale express is humming along, leaving opponents helpless to catch up.
The Tigers were his latest challengers, and Sale cruised right through them in the Motor City.
After a rain delay of one hour and 35 minutes, the lanky lefty (11-4, 2.13 ERA) allowed two hits and three baserunners over six scoreless innings on Sunday afternoon at Comerica Park while leading the Red Sox to a 9-1 romp in the rubber match of a three-game series. He struck out nine and walked none. Of Sale's 99 pitches, the Tigers swung and missed 18 times.
Listen: Morning Lineup Podcast discusses Chris Sale's Cy Young-worthy season
"I feel good," said Sale. "I feel like a broken record sometimes. We scored, what, nine runs today? That obviously gives me a boost and gives our team a boost. We're scoring a lot of runs in general, but obviously in my starts as well. You get a padded lead like that, you can just kind of dig in and just try to find that groove and keep going."
A few weeks back, Sale told pitching coach Dana LeVangie that he was ready to put the Suburban away and go with the Ferrari. In the eight starts since that chat, Sale is 6-1 with an 0.84 ERA, notching 87 strikeouts while walking just 10 in 54 innings. He's allowed no runs in four of the eight starts, two or fewer in all of them, and he hasn't allowed a home run. The only loss during the marvelous stretch of pitching was by a score of 1-0.
This stretch Sale is on continues to remind Red Sox manager Alex Cora of another tall lefty who dominated his way into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot.
"I've been saying the last, what, month, that he's reminding me a lot of Randy Johnson," Cora said. "The thing with Randy, it looked like he was always grinding. With [Sale], it looks effortless right now."
The All-Star break did nothing to diminish Sale's momentum. Sale fired a nine-pitch inning for the American League in Tuesday's Midsummer Classic, leaving him with just the tuneup he needed in his first start for the Red Sox in 11 days.
"Yeah, I had an extra day going into that outing [at the All-Star Game], and then on normal rest out of it," said Sale. "Throwing one inning probably helped more than anything. Obviously, you don't want to go 10 or 11 days without getting [on] the mound. Yeah, I definitely felt that kept me sharp."
The Red Sox are hardly just along for Sale's joyride. They are on fire as well, with 14 wins in their past 16 games, and 19 over their past 23. On Sunday, they became the first team in MLB to hit the 70-win mark this season, and they are 39 games above .500. They have a five-game lead in the American League East.
Though Sale didn't need much in the way of offensive support, his team gave it to him anyway. Jackie Bradley Jr. led the charge with a three-run homer to left in the fourth. Andrew Benintendi iced it with his team-leading sixth triple of the season to bring home two more runs as part of a three-run rally in the seventh. Xander Bogaerts added two doubles and two runs. And the red-hot Steve Pearce -- who has a .405 average since joining the Red Sox on June 29 -- also scored twice and had two hits.
After scoring just one run across the first two games of the series, Boston's bats broke loose.
Sale will return to the mound on regular rest Friday night at Fenway Park against the Twins. After that, he should get at least one extra day of rest across his next four starts due to team off-days. Cora's plan to keep Sale rested this season has worked perfectly. Keeping him to 99 pitches on Sunday only helped in that regard.
Unlike a year ago, Sale seems primed for a strong finish.
"I think so," said Sale. "I don't know what the exact number is, but I know I've thrown less innings, less pitches per start in general this time now than I was last year. I don't see how it can hurt."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
JBJ rewarded this time: The three-run homer by Bradley was hit in almost the same direction as his rope on Saturday that was flagged down by JaCoby Jones, but Bradley got enough on it this time to get it out of the park and give Boston a 6-0 lead. According to Statcast™, the shot was hit with an exit velocity of 103.9 mph at a projected distance of 390 feet. By comparison, the drive Jones flagged down on Saturday was also 103.9 mph while going 380 feet. Bradley's shot was the highlight of a four-run inning.
"I really was going to be upset if I didn't get that one," Bradley said.
For a deep Boston lineup, Bradley is an X-factor when he produces. The Red Sox are 23-1 when he tallies at least one extra-base hit. After a prolonged slump to start the season, Bradley is hitting his stride, though his average for the season is .211. In his past 70 at-bats dating back to June 24, Bradley is slashing .314/.364/.557 with eight doubles, three homers and 18 RBIs.
"He's in a good place. We start looking at the numbers the last 15, 20, 25 games, whatever it is, he's been an above-average hitter at the big league level, and obviously, defensively, he's amazing in center field," said Cora.
The Red Sox continue to be all but unstoppable when they score first, posting a 47-5 record in those situations. Boston has been an offensive juggernaut this season, scoring five-plus runs 60 times in 101 games, the best in the Majors.
HE SAID IT
"I think it's good. Anytime you can get some rest, especially later on in the year, that's kind of when the monkey jumps on your back. Anytime you can have an extra day and get a little fresher, it will be good." -- Sale, enthused about his pitching schedule the rest of the way
Sinkerballer Rick Porcello (11-4, 4.13 ERA) will finally get a chance to avenge his worst start of the season when he starts Monday's game in Baltimore on nine days of rest. Porcello was tagged for seven hits and eight runs in two-plus innings by the Blue Jays in his last start. In nine career starts at Camden Yards, Porcello is 2-5 with a 4.85 ERA. The Orioles counter with righty Kevin Gausman (4-7, 4.33). First pitch is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. ET.