ST. PETERSBURG -- Chris Sale had his lethal fastball and putaway slider working in concert on Tuesday night at Tropicana Field, flustering the Rays and leading the Red Sox to a 4-2 victory in the opener of a three-game series.The ace was on his game (7 2/3 innings, 4 H,
ST. PETERSBURG -- Chris Sale had his lethal fastball and putaway slider working in concert on Tuesday night at Tropicana Field, flustering the Rays and leading the Red Sox to a 4-2 victory in the opener of a three-game series.
The ace was on his game (7 2/3 innings, 4 H, 1 ER, 9 K's) and so, too was, Mookie Betts, who continues to be a slugger from the leadoff spot.
Betts slammed a three-run homer in the third to take over the MLB lead with 16 for the season.
"He's the best player in the league," Sale said of Betts. "I don't think there's any arguing that."
With an early lead to work with, Sale cruised.
"I felt loose, obviously having an extra day and was able to get some work in," said Sale. "Extra day of work and also an extra day of rest. Mixing some things up, Sandy [Leon] was nails back there again today, mixing them, in and out, up and down. I felt good the whole time through."
Closer Craig Kimbrel worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the ninth to earn his 14th save, needing 32 pitches to do it.
Staked to that 3-0 lead by Betts, Sale did have a couple of misfires, one of which was deposited over the wall in left by Rays No. 2 prospect Willy Adames, who was making his Major League debut.
For the most part, the lefty (5-1, 2.17 ERA) was in complete command.
"Once we get the lead with that guy, we're in pretty good shape," said Betts.
The win gave the Red Sox an MLB-leading 33 victories for the season.
The home run by Betts came against Jake Faria, who exited two batters later with a left oblique strain. Rafael Devers added an insurance homer for Boston in the sixth.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
JBJ's hard contact:Jackie Bradley Jr. is showing signs of snapping out of the deep slump he has started the season in. The center fielder had two hard singles and a well-struck groundout before striking out on a borderline pitch in his final at-bat.
"Good swing decisions," said Cora. "He didn't expand. Actually the last pitch, I guess it was a borderline pitch, one of those it was a strike for them, a ball for us, but being able to put barrel with the ball, and that second hit, I like that, being able to stay inside the ball, not too much movement, so he's still working."
With two more homers on Tuesday, the Red Sox have 70 for the season, their most through 48 games in club history. The previous high was 68 by the 1969 squad.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
When C.J. Cron struck one to deep center in the third, Daniel Robertson figured he could score from first if he got a good jump. What Robertson didn't account for was the man playing center field for the Red Sox. Bradley went back and made a fine running catch and fired to Xander Bogaerts for what would turn into an 8-6-3 double play.
"I knew it was in the gap and I knew that I had to get going," said Bradley. "I saw where I thought it was going to go and I took my eyes off of it and ran to a spot and I was waiting on it."
"That was a little uncharacteristic," said Rays manager Kevin Cash. "I know D-Rob felt like off the bat it was a double, I can't argue that, but still, at that point of the game where the score is, there's not that big of a sense of urgency. But you know what? For the most part, we've done some pretty good things on the bases of late."
HE SAID IT
"There's no panic with him. You see the ball hit, and off the bat, it seemed like it was going out of the ballpark, but you look at him and he's just under control, he catches it. He's elite in center field." -- Cora, on Bradley's play against Cron
Coming off arguably his best start as a member of the Red Sox, lefty David Price will try to keep it going when he faces the Rays on Wednesday night at Tropicana Field. Last time out, Price came within one strike of a shutout but settled for a complete-game, five-hitter against the Orioles in which he threw just 95 pitches. First pitch against the Rays, who will counter with Chris Archer, is scheduled for 7:10 p.m. ET.
Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.