Chris Sale made his return to the starting rotation tonight, albeit only for the first inning. Going into this game, we knew that Cora planned to limit Sale to either 2 innings or 40 pitches. And after a ‘rusty’ first inning in which Sale gave up a leadoff hit and then struck out back-to-back batters before the fourth batter popped up to end it, Sale did not return for the second inning. Instead, he threw about an inning’s worth in the bullpen, a comforting sight for fans who worried that he came out of the game even earlier than anticipated due to re-injury or pain.
So it was not exactly the second coming of Sale’s ‘rehab game’ against Baltimore last month, when he struck out 12 over 5 innings on just 78 pitches.
But there was a surprising upside to Chris Sale only pitching the first inning in his first game off the DL: the bullpen was not terrible.
Brandon Workman pitched a scoreless 2nd, followed by Nathan Eovaldi, who pitched an absolute gem, innings 3-5. He began to falter in the 6th, when he began to gave up hits and an absolutely abysmal play by catcher Sandy Leon cost them an out. In the end, Eovaldi added two earned runs to his record, but overall, his velocity and location were there. It’s clear Cora wanted to use this game to test out Eovaldi as a long reliever, and see exactly how deep into the game he can go, and now we know he can go more than three innings. I can totally see him in this role for the postseason, and feel pretty confident imagining that scenario.
Ryan Brasier took over to get the final out of the 6th. He’s been one of the only consistently functional relievers on the team this season, and stayed on to pitch a scoreless 7th. Hector Velazquez, Bobby Poyner, and Joe Kelly followed and held the Jays down while the Red Sox lineup woke up to score 7 late-inning runs off Steve Pearce’s RBI triple, Brock Holt’s pinch-hit 3-run homer, Andrew Benintendi’s RBI double, Kinsler’s RBI single, and JD’s scoring on wild pitch.
I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I feel like maybe the bullpen is turning itself around? Righting the ship? Rising to the challenge? I hoped Sale would last two full innings or the 40-pitch equivalent, and I was nervous when he left the game after the first. But tonight, the bullpen was great. It’s just one game, a small sample, but they’re winning when it counts.
Heath Hembree closed out the game with a 1-2-3 9th inning to give the Red Sox their 50th home win of the season. Unsurprisingly, they have the best home record of any team in baseball. The Sox are now 99-46 on the season, and as of tonight, they are the first and only team to have clinched a postseason berth. Will this third straight postseason be the charm for Boston? It’s a magical time to be a Sox fan, but then again, somehow, it always is.