BOSTON -- Over the last year, Chris Sale has made all manner of starts at Fenway Park. He has allowed five runs and he has allowed zero runs. He has struck out 17 and he has struck out one. He has pitched with playoff seeding on the line and nothing at all at stake. He has dazzled and he has disappointed.
The one thing he hadn't done, until Thursday afternoon vs. the Blue Jays, was earn a win.
It's hard to believe that one of the best pitchers in Red Sox history could own such an ignominious record, but here it was — no one had made more consecutive starts at Fenway Park (13) without a victory than Sale.
The Red Sox had won five of them anyway, including two when Sale went at least six innings without allowing an earned run, so it's not like he had pitched terribly. Wins are context-dependent and not necessarily an accurate reflection of a pitcher's performance. But come on — we're talking about Chris Sale! For him to go more than a year between Fenway victories (his last coming on July 11, 2018 vs. the Rangers) is practically unfathomable.
The Sale who ended that streak on Thursday may not have looked exactly like his vintage self, particularly as he searched to find his fastball velocity and command in the early innings. But he produced vintage results over six shutout frames, striking out 12, hitting 96 mph late, and putting an end to a run of futility that was beginning to make him wonder when the madness that is his underachieving 2019 season would end.
"I think this year has just kind of been all over the place," Sale said. "I've been as bad as I've ever been in my career and I've also had some of the best games I've ever had in my career this year. So it's one of those things, it's more confusing than anything. Kind of all over the map. You go out there, and 17 strikeouts, complete-game shutout and then games when I'm not even getting out of the fourth inning. It's just more confusing. I feel like there are times when I'm racking up strikeouts but I'm also sitting there in a five-run hole. It's like one thing but not the other, or two things, but not the third one. It's just about doing it all at the same time and getting the results you need."
Facing a Blue Jays team that had pounded him in three previous starts this season, including the home opener, to the tune of a 7.98 ERA, Sale varied his pitch mix with electric results. His fastball sat at 91-92 mph in the early innings while he relied extensively on a sweeping slider and darting changeup. He struck out the side in the first and had 12 Ks through five.
As the game wore on, his velocity increased, too, nearing 97 mph on his final strikeout of the game to end the fifth. With the Red Sox comfortably leading 4-0, he was lifted after 101 pitches and the bullpen brought it home without incident for once.
And just like that, Sale finally could call himself a winner in Fenway Park.
"Long overdue," he said. "Nobody else to blame but myself, but obviously glad to get this one out of the way and now we can just focus on what's ahead and keep the ball rolling and have a happy flight, get on the plane and get down to Baltimore and start off on the right foot down there."
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