The Red Sox certainly made sure to give Chris Sale plenty of run support in his return to the mound at Fenway Park on Saturday afternoon, as they came away with a 15-2 blowout victory over the lowly Orioles to clinch their first series win in over two weeks.
Sale, making his first major-league start in over two years and first since undergoing Tommy John surgery last March, showed flashes of what makes him so special in his 2021 debut.
Over five solid innings of work, the ace left-hander yielded just two runs — both of which were earned — on six hits and zero walks to go along with eight strikeouts on the afternoon.
Both runs Sale surrendered came by way of the home run ball, as he served up pair of back-to-back solo shots to Austin Hays and Trey Mancini with two outs in the top half of the third after retiring eight of the first nine hitters he faced.
Still, even with that tough sequence that saw Baltimore net their first and only two runs of the day, Sale was able to settle in, as he got the final out of the third before working his way around some traffic in a scoreless fourth inning.
In his fifth and final frame, Sale issued a leadoff single to Richie Martin and another single to Austin Wynns that was hit to Hunter Renfroe in right field. Renfroe, however, put his arm strength on full display by gunning down Martin at third base for his league-leading 14th outfield assist of the season.
That turned a potential situation in which there would have been runners on the corners with no outs to a situation where there was one out and just one runner on first, and Sale took full advantage of that by fittingly sitting down the final two batters he faced — Hays and Mancini — to end his outing on an extremely encouraging note.
Finishing with a final pitch count of 89 (60 strikes), the 32-year-old hurler induced 16 total swings and misses while topping out at 96 mph and averaging 93.3 mph with his four-seam fastball.
Able to pick up his first win in his first start of the year, Sale is slated to pitch again against the Rangers back at Fenway Park next Friday.
While Sale was in the process of putting together his five impressive frames in his season debut, the Red Sox lineup was busy piling it on against Sale’s counterpart in Orioles starter Jorge Lopez.
Right from the jump, the Boston bats provided Sale with a sizable cushion by compiling four runs in their half of the first inning alone.
Enrique Hernandez kicked things off with a leadoff single, while Alex Verdugo got his productive day at the plate started with a single of his own. Lopez then drilled Xander Bogaerts on the wrist to load the bases having yet to record an out.
A wild pitch from Lopez allowed Hernandez to score easily from third for his side’s first run of the contest, and Rafael Devers followed by emptying the bases on a 424-foot three-run shot to right field that left his bat at a sizzling 107.7 mph.
Devers’ team-leading 29th home run of the year gave the Sox a commanding 4-0 lead early on, and they tacked on two more an inning later with Bogaerts and Verdugo each drilling run-scoring hits to make it a 6-0 contest.
Though Baltimore cut the deficit down to four with two runs of their own in their half of third, Boston got one of those runs back an inning later when Devers greeted newly-inserted reliever Paul Fry by lacing a bases-loaded RBI single to left field.
Going up 7-2 on Devers’ base knock, the Sox offense opted to double their run total to that point in their half of the fifth.
There, moments after Sale’s evening had come to a close, Renfroe led the inning off by drawing a leadoff walk off Orioles reliever Adam Plutko, though he did not remain on first base for long since Jarren Duran promptly brought him in on an RBI triple into the triangle in center field.
Another Red Sox rookie got in on the action a few moments later, as Bobby Dalbec stayed hot and crushed a two-run big fly 373 feet over the Green Monster.
Dalbec’s first of two home runs on the day added on to the Sox’ lead and also flipped the lineup back over for Hernandez, who drew another walk, moved up to third on a Verdugo single, and scored on an RBI single off the bat of Bogaerts.
After Devers struck out for the second out of the fifth, J.D. Martinez came through by depositing a three-run blast 424 feet to left-center field.
Martinez’s 22nd homer of the year put Boston up 14-2 and also capped off an explosive seven-run inning.
Dalbec’s second homer of the afternoon in the sixth and Renfroe’s first in the eighth (off Wynns, a catcher) gave the Red Sox a 16-2 lead.
At that point, Hirokazu Sawamura, Hansel Robles, and Austin Davis already provided three scoreless innings of relief out of the Red Sox bullpen to follow up Sale’s impressive performance, and Martin Perez closed things out by shutting the door on the O’s in the ninth to preserve the 16-2 victory for his side.
With the win, the Red Sox have now won two consecutive games for the first since July 25-26 to earn the series victory over the Orioles. They also improved to 68-51 on the season to move 4 1/2 games back of the Rays for first place in the American League East.
Next up: Rodriguez vs. Akin
The Red Sox will send left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez to the mound as they go for the three-game sweep over the Orioles on Sunday afternoon. The Orioles will counter with fellow southpaw Keegan Akin as they look to prevent that from happening.
First pitch Sunday is scheduled for 1:10 p.m. eastern time on NESN.
(Picture of Chris Sale: Rich Gagnon/Getty Images)