HOUSTON — Chris Sale’s run of dominance has come to an abrupt end.
And now the question must be asked: Why have the Red Sox played so poorly with their ace on the mound this year?
Sale was back to looking like a mortal Friday night at Minute Maid Park, where he snapped a streak of four straight games with at least 10 strikeouts (he had struck out 51 total in those four games) and allowed four runs (two earned) while striking out five over six innings.
But it was the Sox’ abysmal defense and continued lack of scoring with Sale on the mound that prompted a sense of wondering after a 4-3 loss to the Astros.
The Yankees were postponed Friday but increased their lead in the American League East to six games to kick off Memorial Day Weekend.
The Red Sox played like they would have rather been celebrating the long weekend on a boat as they played without much focus or discipline, throwing the ball around the park like a Little League team while former teammate Wade Miley dominated over six innings of work.
A rematch of Miley vs. Sale from last weekend, when Sale got the edge in a 4-3 win for the Sox, this one looked like it might be over in 2 hours. Sale’s pace ranks in the fastest 25th percentile among MLB starters, and Miley leads the pack while averaging less than 20 seconds between pitches.
Miley works quick and stays in the strike zone. The Sox couldn’t handle it. He struck out six without allowing a baserunner his first time through the order. Finally the Sox put two runners on in the fourth, but J.D. Martinez grounded into a double play to end the inning.
Sale was sitting around 93 mph on his fastball, about average for him this year, but his slider wasn’t working, generating just one swing-and-miss and four called strikes all evening.
But this wasn’t the only concern.
Steve Pearce began the circus defense when he got a routine grounder in the second inning and side-armed a missile wide of Sale, who was trying to cover the bag at first. The Astros took a 1-0 lead.
Sale hung a slider and Jake Marisnick smoked it a solo shot in the third to make it 2-0.
In the fourth, the Sox had perhaps their most embarrassing play of the season. It was a routine groundball from Marisnick that started it. Xander Bogaerts fielded the ball to his right, then saw the slow-footed Robinson Chirinos heading home and made a bad attempt to nail the lead runner. The throw sailed wide and Chirinos safe, but the play didn’t end there.
Sandy Leon chased it down, sent it to second base and Michael Chavis collected it as the Sox should’ve had Marisnick dead in a rundown. Chavis crept toward the runner while Josh Reddick snuck off third base, faking an attempt at home. Distracted, Chavis never threw the ball. And as Marisnick ran back to first, Pearce jumped off the bag expecting a throw, never got one and everybody was safe.
Two chances at recording an out had failed. One run had scored. Then another on a sacrifice fly, which would’ve been the third out of the inning had the Sox gotten at least one out the play before. Instead, the Sox were behind 4-1.
Jackie Bradley Jr. ended Ryan Pressly’s streak of 40 consecutive scoreless appearances with a monster home run in the seventh inning and Christian Vazquez hit a pinch-hit solo shot off Roberto Osuna in the ninth, but it wasn’t enough after the Sox’ sloppy performance early.
Sale was pulled after just 89 pitches. Once again, he received little run support.
The Red Sox have scored 34 runs in his 11 starts this season, an average of 3.1 runs per game. They’ve averaged 5.9 runs per game with anybody else on the mound.
They’re now 3-8 when he pitches.
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