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In Spite of Pitching Woes, the Red Sox Keep Swinging


BOSTON — Chris Sale stopped by his locker at Fenway Park for a couple of minute on Saturday afternoon, just long enough to shake hands and thank a visitor for wishing him well. He was scurrying between the sector and the burden room, slipped a latest shirt over his reedy frame — “SALE” tattooed between his shoulder blades — and off he went.

“Work day,” he said, smiling.

Sale, the seven-time All-Star who clinched Boston’s 2018 World Series victory with a strikeout, has not done much work on the mound these days. Tommy John surgery worn out many of the last two seasons, and a rib cage injury has cost him greater than half of 2022. He trashed a dugout tunnel at Class AAA Worcester last week on a rehab task, but paid for the damage and said he had acted like an idiot.

“Who’s perfect?” Sale told Boston reporters by the dugout on Thursday. “Name him. I’d like to shake his hand.”

Sale could have walked across the sector and shaken hands with the Yankees, who’ve been about as perfect as a baseball team may be. The Yankees were 61-24 before Sunday night’s series finale with the Red Sox, a record for an 85-game start that the team has surpassed only twice in franchise history. Those previous teams, in 1939 and 1998, went on to brush the World Series.

The Yankees missed Sale over the weekend — he’s scheduled to return Tuesday against the Tampa Bay Rays — and faced three rookie starters before Sunday. The Red Sox, who also began a rookie just before the Yankees arrived, had not began 4 rookies in a row since September 1945. Ted Williams was in Hawaii that month awaiting his discharge from the Marines after helping win World War II.

So, yes, it has been some time for the reason that Red Sox found themselves in quite this predicament. But their rotation was vulnerable all along; the injured veterans — Sale, Nate Eovaldi (back), Wealthy Hill (knee), Michael Wacha (shoulder) — have rarely been durable, and a younger starter, Garrett Whitlock (hip), will return in a relief role.

Consider that attrition, and the proven fact that the Red Sox had by some means lost all eight series against American League East opponents this season before the Yankees got here to town. You may expect them to be stumbling toward their fifth last-place finish since 2012, right? (Look it up.)

Yet after Saturday’s 6-5 victory in 10 innings, the Red Sox held the highest A.L. wild-card spot, at 46-39.

“We worked so hard to get thus far, and I believe there’s just one team, actually, within the league that’s playing outstanding baseball — and we’re playing them immediately,” Manager Alex Cora said. “The remainder of them, they’re sort of in the identical situation. There’s a number of teams which might be getting hot they usually’re within the conversation now, but we take a look at the standings and I do know the season doesn’t end today — but when it ends today, we’re within the dance. So that you take a look at the positives.”

The positive is an offense that may still mash, trailing only the Yankees in runs per game amongst A.L. teams. The Red Sox lost Thursday and Friday, but trampled Gerrit Cole and Nestor Cortes for nine runs in nine and two-thirds innings. On Saturday, they got here back to beat the Yankees’ lockdown bullpen.

It was the primary time in 49 games this season that the Yankees had lost after leading through seven innings, and their fans had felt emboldened in enemy territory. When Aaron Judge doubled within the Tenth to provide the Yankees the lead, “M-V-P!” cheers polluted the air. The Red Sox noticed.

“You could possibly sort of hear it even today, Yankees fans chanting and chanting,” said outfielder Alex Verdugo, whose two-run single won the sport. “It was just really loud for the Yankees, right? It felt like Boston was sort of getting overpowered vocally by Yankee fans. It’s one in all those things, for me, it was like: ‘We’ve got to get this back. That is our house. That is where we play. This ain’t their field.’”

Verdugo drove in the previous Yankee Rob Refsnyder (he was batting .344 through Saturday) and the rookie Jeter Downs, who rolled a single to right within the Tenth-inning rally for his first major league hit. He’s the namesake of, yes, Derek Jeter, who sent Downs a message when he played his first game in June.

“He tweeted at me and said, ‘Good luck, but not against the Yankees,’” Downs said, noting that his first hit, run and run batted in have now come against Jeter’s old team. “You’ll be able to’t write a greater story.”

The Red Sox got Verdugo, Downs and Connor Wong, the catcher at Worcester, within the deal that sent Mookie Betts to the Los Angeles Dodgers in February 2020. Go searching the Fenway stands or Back Bay streets, and you continue to see loads of No. 50 jerseys, they usually’re not for Saturday’s starter, Kutter Crawford.

Trading Betts will sting for some time, and lends an undercurrent of dread here concerning the way forward for other homegrown stars. Shortstop Xander Bogaerts can opt out of his contract this fall, and third baseman Rafael Devers is eligible totally free agency after next season. The Red Sox have reduce on payroll recently and produce other infield options: second baseman Trevor Story, who signed a six-year deal in March, and the highest prospect Marcelo Mayer, a shortstop in low Class A.

“That’s not entirely as much as me,” Devers said through an interpreter Saturday, when asked about signing long-term with the Red Sox. “But I don’t know some other team. I like this city, I like my teammates, I like my coaches. So, yeah, in fact I’d like to be here. But at the tip of the day, it’s not in my hands.”

Devers was hitting .327 with 19 homers and was leading the A.L. in wins above alternative through Saturday, in line with Baseball Reference. He connected twice off Cole on Friday — “You’re alleged to fail seven out of 10 times on this league,” said Cole, who has served up six profession homers to Devers. “I don’t know what the deal is” — but left Friday’s game with back pain.

Devers’s absence Saturday, coupled with the Yankees’ dominance and Boston’s depleted pitching, made that game seem to be one other lost cause. However the Red Sox prevailed, and shortly Sale, their ace, will return. They won’t catch the Yankees within the division, but they won’t go away easily, either — they usually knocked the Yankees from the playoffs last fall.

“We all the time feel confident against the Yankees,” Verdugo said. “It’s just one in all those things, just like the wild-card game last yr, playoff games this yr potentially — we are going to feel confident against them. We all know that when it’s a do-or-die game, something like that, we’ll bring our energy, we’ll bring our game.”

The rivalry rolls on next weekend within the Bronx.

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