Red Sox starter Chris Sale delivers against the Yankees during another tough-luck loss on Thursday. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)
One day, the Red Sox will score a run for Chris Sale. And when they do, that day will be glorious.
But until that day comes, we’re left with nights like Thursday, when Sale was nearly perfect until the ninth and it didn’t matter, because the Red Sox offense turned Masahiro Tanaka into . . . Chris Sale.
The Red Sox had averaged one run of support with Sale on the mound in his first four starts, and they didn’t even reach that number in Thursday’s 3-0 loss.
Sale reached 10 strikeouts for the fourth straight start. He reached 98 mph with his fastball. He didn’t walk anyone. He froze hitters with sliders and blew them away with heat while working at his trademark relentless pace, lowering his ERA to 0.72 through eight innings before coming back out for the ninth and allowing three straight hits and a run. An inherited runner later scored, leaving his final line at eight innings, eight hits, two runs. His ERA climbed to 1.19.
His only “mistake” until then, such as it was, was crossing up catcher Sandy Leon with a slider that ended up sailing practically through Leon and to the backstop, advancing Aaron Hicks to third, where he’d score the game’s only run on a sacrifice fly in the fourth.
Otherwise, Sale was practically untouchable. He recorded seven strikeouts in the first three innings and left the Yankees feeling like contact counted as a moral victory.
Unfortunately, the Red Sox had even less success with Yankees starter Masahiro Tanaka, who matched Sale zero for zero while allowing only three hits in the complete-game shutout. Tanaka barely broke 91 mph, but it didn’t matter against the punchless Red Sox, who didn’t even benefit from the return of second baseman Dustin Pedroia atop the order.
This marks the fifth time in their last seven games that the Red Sox have failed to top two runs, and the third time in that span they’ve been shut out — one each by division rivals Toronto, Baltimore, and now New York. They began the night ranked 13th in the American League in runs, and their ranking didn’t improve.
The thing is, Tanaka didn’t even enter the game on some kind of epic run. He was 2-1 with a 6.00 ERA, though he has gotten progressively better since allowing eight runs on Opening Day against the Rays.
But with the Red Sox ranked dead last in home runs and basically reduced to a singles-hitting team, Tanaka went to work by throwing first-pitch strikes. The Red Sox started the night leading the American League in average and on base percentage, but ranked only 10th in slugging, and that ranking didn’t improve.
Will this problem fix itself with the arrival of warmer weather? Maybe. But David Ortiz is retired and that’s not going to change, which means if this is to flip, it will have to come from within.