The Red Sox remain unbeaten in games started by Chris Sale in 2021, as they took care of business in the first of a three-game set against the Rangers at Fenway Park on Friday night.
Boston came out on top over Texas by a final score of 6-0, with Sale leading the way by putting together his second straight solid outing after returning to the major-league mound for the first time in nearly two years last Saturday.
Sale, in what was his second start of the season for the Sox, kept the Rangers off the scoreboard while scattering just five hits and one walk to go along with five strikeouts over his five innings of work.
Granted, he was going up against one of the worst lineups in the American League, but the veteran left-hander still strung together five scoreless frames despite dealing with his fair share of traffic on the base paths.
In the top of the first, Sale gave up a one-out double to Isiah Kiner-Falefa, but followed that with two straight strikeouts to get out of the inning. In the top of the second, he issued a one-out walk and single to Yohel Pozo and Yonny Hernandez, but countered that by getting a strikeout and flyout to retire the side. In the top of the fourth, he yielded back-to-back one-out base hits to Jonah Heim and Pozo that put runners on the corners, but that runner on third was stranded there.
That being the case because Sale got Hernandez to bunt into a force out at second base before getting Jason Martin to fly out to left field to end things in the fourth. He then maneuvered his way around a leadoff single in the fifth and capped off his night by sitting down the final two batters he faced in order thanks to a nifty 6-4-3 double play on a Brock Holt grounder.
Finishing with a final pitch count of 71 (49 strikes), the 32-year-old hurler ultimately earned his second winning decision of the season while lowering his ERA to 1.80.
While Sale was in the process of weaving his way through the Rangers lineup, the Red Sox lineup was able to wake up to some degree after a sleepy series in the Bronx earlier this week.
Matched up against rookie right-hander Dane Dunning, the Boston bats got things started right away in their half of the first, and Enrique Hernandez proved to be the catalyst for that with a leadoff double.
After advancing up to third base on a passed ball, Hernandez came into score on an RBI single off the bat of Xander Bogaerts, who kicked off his productive night at the plate by giving his side an early 1-0 lead.
Christian Vazquez followed suit in the second, as he, too, ripped a leadoff double to right field, moved up to third on a Jarren Duran groundout, and was plated on a sharp line-drive RBI single from Hernandez to double Boston’s advantage to 2-0.
Fast forward to the fifth, right after Sale’s outing had come to a close, and the Red Sox did most of their damage off Dunning — all with two outs in the inning.
Following outs from Hernandez and Rafael Devers, Bogaerts drilled an 0-1, 84 mph changeup down the heart of the plate 371 feet down the left field line and over the Green Monster for his 20th home run of the season.
Kyle Schwarber followed by drawing a seven-pitch walk, while J.D. Martinez put runners at second and third for Alex Verdugo by lacing a two-out double to left field.
Verdugo took full advantage of that, as he tattooed a two-run double 101 mph off the Green Monster off the very first pitch he saw from Dunning.
That piece of impressive hitting gave the Sox a commanding 5-0 lead, though Hernandez tacked on one more to that an inning later when he plated Duran from third on another run-scoring groundout to make it a 6-0 contest.
Red Sox bullpen takes over for Sale
In relief of Sale, Hansel Robles got the first call out of the Red Sox bullpen to begin things in the top half of the sixth, and he worked his way around a leadoff walk by sitting down the next three batters he faced in consecutive order.
From there, after Hernandez provided some insurance and made it a 6-0 game, Austin Davis tossed a scoreless seventh inning with some defensive help from Devers and Bogaerts, Hirokazu Sawamura punched out two in a 1-2-3 top of the eighth, and Matt Barnes — in a nonsave situation — shut the door on the Rangers in the ninth.
It was Barnes’ first relief appearance since last Sunday, and it was one in which he struck out the side en route to securing a 6-0 shutout victory for the Sox.
With the win, the Red Sox improve to 70-54 on the season to snap a three-game skid. They are — at the moment — six games back of the Rays for first place in the American League East and tied with the Athletics for the second American League Wild Card spot.
Some assorted offensive notes from Friday’s win:
Enrique Hernandez went 2-for-5 with a double, one run scored, two RBI out of the leadoff spot.
Xander Bogaerts went 2-for-4 with a home run and two RBI out of the No. 3 spot.
Kyle Schwarber went 2-for-2 with two walks and a run scored out of the cleanup spot.
Next up: Rodriguez vs. Lyles
The Red Sox will send left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez to the hill on Saturday night as they go for the series victory over the Rangers.
The Rangers, in turn, will counter with veteran right-hander Jordan Lyles as they look to even things up.
First pitch Saturday is scheduled for 7:10 p.m. eastern time on NESN and MLB Network.
(Picture of Chris Sale: Omar Rawlings/Getty Images)