BOSTON — After beginning the season 0-8 against National League Central teams at Fenway Park, the Red Sox kicked off the month of June with an 8-2 victory over the Cincinnati Reds.
Unfortunately, the victory is bittersweet, overshadowed by Chris Sale leaving his start early with left shoulder soreness, pretty much the last thing anyone in Boston wants to see after several strong starts for the 34-year-old left-hander.
The game began as a pitchers’ duel, with Sale and Reds starter Hunter Greene combining for 12 strikeouts over the first three frames. After allowing a leadoff single, Sale got three consecutive strikeouts to end the first inning, then set down the Reds 1-2-3 in the second, including back-to-back swinging strikeouts for the second and third outs.
Sale scuffled in the top of the third, allowing back-to-back 1-out doubles to give the Reds a 1-0 lead, but settled back down and got the next two outs.
It was the top of the fourth when things took a concerning turn for the southpaw. After another set of back-to-back doubles, Alex Cora and the team’s athletic trainer, Masai Takahashi, came out to check on Sale, as did several of his teammates around the diamond.
“He’s going to keep going until he breaks,” Kiké Hernández told WEEI after the game, describing how adamant Sale was about wanting to stay in the game.
But after fending off his coach and manager, Sale issued a walk. The second time around, the decision was no longer up to him. Cora and Takahashi came back out, and returned to the dugout with Sale in tow, covering his face with his glove to hide his emotion.
With that uncertainty hanging over their heads, it wouldn’t have been surprising to see the Red Sox fold. They’d already been swept at home by the Pittsburgh Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals this season, and lost the first two games against the Reds.
Instead, the bullpen took up the mantle and the bats came back from an early 1-0 deficit to score eight runs, six of them in the penultimate inning.
Justin Garza, Josh Winckowski, Nick Pivetta, and Chris Martin combined for 4 1/3 innings of 2-hit, 1-run ball.
After the Reds re-tied the game in the top of the eighth, the Red Sox roared back in the bottom of the inning. Cincinnati reliever Kevin Herget began the inning by walking Alex Verdugo, who promptly scored the go-ahead run on Rafael Devers’ 15th double of the season.
Justin Turner followed with a single, and advanced to third as Masataka Yoshida reached on a fielder’s choice and Devers was tagged out at home. With runners on second and third, Herget opted to intentionally walk Jarren Duran, loading the bases.
That’s when things unraveled for the Reds righty. A balk made it a 4-2 lead, Hernández’s single pushed it to 6-2, and Connor Wong sealed the deal with a 2-run homer.
As he’d already begun warming up to close out a much closer game, Kenley Jansen took over for the ninth with a 6-run cushion, and got the job done.
A commanding victory gives the Red Sox a bit of momentum as they brace themselves for the weekend’s four-game series against the 40-18 Tampa Bay Rays.
But until there are more answers about Sale, no one will rest easy. He was unavailable to the media following the game. He’ll have an MRI on Friday, and the Red Sox will take it from there.
Asked how concerned he is, Cora would only say, “We’ll see.”