BOSTON -- The Red Sox are setting themselves up for a clinch party in the house of their rivals.
After being the latest team to outlast Jacob deGrom and score off the Mets' bullpen, the Sox notched a 4-3 victory on Sunday afternoon at Fenway Park that reduced the magic number to two for clinching the American League East title.
After a day off on Monday, Boston (103-47) opens a three-game series at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday afternoon. The math has become quite simple: A win against the Yankees in that three-game series gives the division title to the Red Sox for the third straight year.
"That would be awesome," said Red Sox ace Chris Sale. "I think we'd all like to do it here, obviously, but we weren't able to do that. Going to one of your biggest rivals in the division or in the game and being able to do it there, it will be fun. We'll enjoy it anywhere we're at."
The game started as a duel between two of the most dominant pitchers in the Majors. Sale's latest "opener" was just what the Red Sox were looking for. He went three shutout innings and allowed one hit while walking none and striking out one. Sale made 42 pitches in the outing, and then got up to his allotted pitch count by throwing more in the bullpen when the fourth inning started. It was a significant step forward after Sale labored through 26 pitches in the first inning last time out and didn't come back out for the second.
"I think at this point, the first one obviously didn't go as planned," said Sale. "This one was a little more smooth. We're doing three innings with an inning in the bullpen. We ramp up the first time, then the next time, and by the third one -- the first postseason start -- we'll be at 100 pitches, which is where you want to be."
Knuckleballer Steven Wright got his first career save on a day the Sox rested Craig Kimbrel. It was the first time a knuckleballer saved a game for the Red Sox since Tim Wakefield on April 13, 2003.
"This is a guy who went through a lot with his health and obviously starting the season late and he's been able to contribute," said manager Alex Cora. "It was good to see him halfway through the season, be a starter and a reliever and now he's doing a good job for us. Like I've been saying, the key for us is to keep him healthy. We know we have X amount of games. We have to keep him healthy."
If Sale's second start back from the disabled list created excitement for Boston, it was temporarily offset by concern for star right fielder Mookie Betts, who had to leave the game in the top of the sixth inning with soreness in his left side. However, after the game Cora said Betts was fine and should be able to start Tuesday vs. the Yankees.
The Red Sox had a significant accomplishment in the third when they strung together some hits against deGrom, which hardly ever happens. Rafael Devers and Christian Vazquez got it started with back-to-back singles that put runners at the corners with nobody out. Betts got a run home with a sacrifice fly to center.
Brock Holt stepped up next and put a jolt into the crowd with a two-run rocket over the wall in right to give the Red Sox a 3-0 lead. It was Holt's fifth homer of the season and just the 10th allowed by deGrom.
"It was a 1-0 count right there, so I'm looking for something hard and fortunately I got it," said Holt. "You still have to square it up. Fortunately I was able to do that. He's one of the best in the game and he proved it today."
deGrom was nearly untouched the rest of the day, extending his record-setting streak to 27 starts of three earned runs or fewer.
"He's one of the best pitchers we've faced this year. Poise on the mound, presence, fastball, slider, changeup. Controlling the running game," said Cora. "We made up our mind before the game [that] as soon as somebody gets on we're going to put a hit-and-run on. You have to do it. I was asking if any team has three hits in a row against him and nobody answered that question throughout the day, so we made up our mind.
"That's what we do, too, we try to put pressure on aces, because if you just sit back, relax and wait for the home run, it's not going to happen. Honestly, I know voting stuff and all that, but he should win the Cy Young in the National League. No doubt."
It was the first matchup of two starting pitchers with 100 innings and ERAs under 2.00 since Dwight Gooden and John Tudor on Sept. 11, 1985, at Shea Stadium.
Before the game, as they were both getting ready for their starts, Sale made a playful joke to deGrom, who homered against him in college.
"I asked him before the game why he wasn't in the lineup," said Sale. "I need my redemption against him. Yeah, he's the best in the league. This is one of the best lineups in the league. We stuck it out and got one across late."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Lin lays base: Once the Red Sox got deGrom out of there, scratching one run across to take the lead didn't feel so hard. Tzu-Wei Lin, who came into the game as a replacement for Betts, started it with a double off the Green Monster. Holt flied out to deep center and Lin scampered to third. Andrew Benintendi did his job, getting the go-ahead run home on a sacrifice fly to center. For Lin, who is hitting .208 in 48 at-bats, it was a satisfying moment to start the rally and score the run that put his team ahead. It was Lin's first career appearance in center field.
"Happy for him, too, that he got a double there and he was able to contribute. It was fun to see. It was good to see him smile," said Cora. "Yeah, we feel he can play center field."
Sale's career-long scoreless streak is now at 32 innings. It is the longest streak in the Majors this season and best for the Red Sox since since Pedro Martinez in 2002.
HE SAID IT
"We've got a chance. We've got three shots there. We win one and we clinch. I think, for me, it's going to be special if it was New York or Baltimore or Tampa -- this is a special group and we have a chance to finish this off. We've been looking at the standings and talking about it and a lot of people have been talking about it for a month and a half. Now we've got it, we're right there. So we'll be ready for Tuesday, and if it happens Tuesday, it's going to be a fun night." -- Cora
Right-hander Nathan Eovaldi takes the ball for the Red Sox when they go for the clinch in the opener of a three-game series at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday. Eovaldi, a former Yankee, is 10-5 with a 3.85 ERA in his career at the Stadium. The last time the rivals met, the Red Sox swept a four-game series at Fenway Park from Aug. 2-5. First pitch is scheduled for 1:05 p.m. ET, live on Facebook Watch.