When you’ve lost four straight games, you need someone on the mound to come up big and end that streak. A “stopper”, as some prefer to call such pitchers—who often tend to be the ace of a staff.
Facing a sweep and fifth straight loss at the hands of the Seattle Mariners Wednesday afternoon, Sale said ‘Not so fast!’ as he fired seven scoreless frames in Boston’s 4-0 victory at Safeco Field. He allowed just three hits, one free pass, and punched out 11.
One quick note about the game—is that Rafael Devers launched a home run for his first Major League hit. The rookie connected for a solo shot off Andrew Moore to lead off the third inning. Devers, the 20-year-old third baseman, was Boston’s top prospect prior to his call-up on Monday. He had been hitting .311/.377/.578 with 20 homers and 60 RBIs in the minors this season (77 games in AA, nine in AAA).
With the win, Sale improved to 13-4 on the season as his ERA dropped to 2.37. His Major League-leading strikeout total increased to 211 as he’s now on pace for 332. This would be the most in the majors since Randy Johnson when he struck out 334 in 2002 for the Arizona Diamondbacks. His teammate, Curt Schilling, recorded 316 the same year.
Pedro Martinez holds the Red Sox’s single-season strikeout record with 313 in 1999.
Wednesday’s outing was Sale’s third straight scoreless start, and fourth in his last five times out (sixth overall). It’s also the 14th time he’s recorded 10 or more strikeouts this year. That means he’s done that in exactly two-thirds of his starts, as he’s made a total of 21. (Max Scherzer is second in the majors with 12 10+ strikeout games—has 19 less strikeouts than Sale in one less start.)
Since June 15, Sale is 5-2 in eight starts with a 1.41 ERA and 13.34 strikeouts-per-nine (12.80 overall). So he’s been on fire particularly lately, kind of like the way he was in April when he had a 1.19 ERA in five starts. The difference now—is he’s finally getting run support (12 of his 13 wins have come since May).
Sale currently leads the American League in wins, ERA, and strikeouts. The last (and first) Red Sox pitcher to win the Triple Crown was none other than Martinez in 1999. Since then, only two AL pitchers have accomplished the feat (Johan Santana in 2006, Justin Verlander in 2011).
Across the majors, only Clayton Kershaw (15) has more wins than Sale and only two (Kershaw- 2.04, Scherzer- 2.26) have better ERAs. Kershaw just hit the DL for “four-to-six” weeks a few days ago though. This helps increase Sale’s chances of leading the majors—let alone the AL—in all three Triple Crown categories. That’s been done twelve times in Major League history (six in each league), with the latest occurrence being Santana in 2006. A slim chance of that happening for Sale, but anything’s possible.
It’s pretty obvious that Sale is the favorite for the AL Cy Young award this year—doesn’t even really need to be said. Assuming he wins, it will be the first time the Red Sox have back-to-back Cy Young winners since 1999/2000 when Martinez won each year. The last AL team to win it in consecutive seasons were the Cleveland Indians in 2007/2008 (C.C. Sabathia/Cliff Lee).
Who’s been a better off-season pickup across the majors than Sale? It’s hard to say. He’s been everything for the Red Sox and then some—hard to imagine where they’d be without him.
Boston leaves Seattle with a 56-47 record on the season, leading the Yankees by one game in the AL East (have one less loss than the Red Sox). After a day off on Thursday, the Red Sox will resume play Friday night with a three-game home set against the Kansas City Royals.
Sale’s next scheduled start is August 1 against the Indians at Fenway Park, his first start of the year against Cleveland. A previous seven-year AL Central division rival, he’s 6-5 with a 4.07 ERA in his career against them (27 games, 16 starts).