Sale returns to form as Red Sox rout Rays
BOSTON — Chris Sale snapped back to Cy Young Award-caliber form against the Tampa Bay Rays, even though the Boston Red Sox really did not need him to do so on Saturday night.
Sale struck out eight over six scoreless innings, but the Red Sox’s bats erupted for nine runs as they blanked the Rays 9-0 in game two of a three-game weekend set at Fenway Park.
“It’s nice. Any time your offense goes out there and flat-out explodes — I mean, they went off tonight — that’s nice to see,” said Sale (16-7), who was 1-3 with a 5.48 ERA in his previous four starts.
Sale allowed six hits and one walk en route to re-claiming the team lead in victories.
Sale surpassed his previous career-high for strikeouts in a season and has 278, the most by an American League pitcher since former Red Sox great Pedro Martinez had 284 in 2000.
With 10 strikeouts, Boston’s pitching staff also set a franchise record for strikeouts with 1,363, eclipsing the previous record set last year by one.
Andrew Benintendi and Mitch Moreland drove in three runs apiece, and Dustin Pedroia smacked a two-run homer, his seventh of the season, as the Red Sox won their fourth straight game.
The Red Sox also scored nine in a 9-3 victory in the series opener Friday.
“We normally seem to play some pretty good ballgames against them (the Red Sox),” said Rays manager Kevin Cash, whose team fell to 6-9 against Boston this season. “Obviously we have not (this weekend), so that’s tough.”
Boston (81-61) maintained its 4 1/2-game lead atop the American League East over the second-place Yankees after New York’s earlier 3-1 victory against the Texas Rangers.
Tampa Bay (70-73) lost its third straight game, but remained 4 1/2 games behind the Twins for the second AL wild-card spot after Minnesota’s 5-2 loss to the Kansas City Royals.
Danny Espinosa paced the Tampa Bay offense with a three-hit night, but the Rays snapped their season franchise-record streak of 18 straight games with a home run.
Rays starter Matt Andriese (5-3) was knocked around to the tune of eight runs (six earned) on seven hits with two walks and two strikeouts in 1 2/3 innings, throwing only 50 pitches.
Andriese was making his second start after missing two months with a hip injury. In 6 2/3 innings since his return, Andriese has allowed 11 earned runs.
“Just take it a day at a time,” Andriese said. “Obviously coming back from the injury, I was just trying to go out there and put up zeroes obviously.”
Boston built an 8-0 lead for the second straight game, scoring three runs in the first and five in the second against a shaky Andriese.
“The early runs were also helpful in maybe not making so much of a stressful outing (for Sale) through the six innings of work,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said. “He was able to pitch comfortably.”
Pedroia’s homer on an inside pitch barely cleared the Green Monster in left field two batters into the Red Sox’s first. It was his first round-tripper since July 20 and traveled approximately 374 feet.
“A little head scratching why we’re trying to go (pitch) in to Pedroia,” Cash said. “I’ve been around him a long time, and the league knows him that he handles the ball in fairly well.”
Moreland’s groundout two at-bats later made it 3-0.
All of Boston’s five second-inning runs came with two outs. Benintendi knocked in two with a double, Moreland had a two-run single and Mookie Betts scored on a throwing error.
Benintendi’s two-out RBI single in the third made it 9-0.
NOTES: Boston INF/OF Eduardo Nunez started the game at SS after missing Friday’s game with mid-back spasms, but he left in the second inning with a right knee contusion he suffered while running out an infield single. Manager John Farrell said Nunez is unlikely to play Sunday. ... Tampa Bay RF Steven Souza Jr. (left knee bruise) was not in the lineup after leaving Friday’s game following a collision with the right-field wall. He expects to return this season. ... Red Sox LHP David Price (left elbow inflammation) threw two simulated innings Saturday. He will pitch another simulated game Wednesday or Thursday, after which the team will discuss his role. ... JetBlue Park will serve as a Hurricane Irma shelter for Red Sox personnel in Fort Myers, Fla., the Boston Globe reports. ... Boston native and Rays RHP Alex Cobb (10-9, 3.64 ERA) opposes Red Sox RHP Rick Porcello (9-16, 4.67 ERA) in Sunday’s series finale.