ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — There will be hours of film review to be conducted by multiple sets of trained eyes to understand what happened with Chris Sale last night, but at the least he avoided taking the loss.
After Sale tossed a clunker, allowing four runs in 52⁄3 innings to the same Tampa Bay Rays team he had shut down in five previous outings this year, the Red Sox rallied for three runs in the ninth and went on to win, 13-6, in a 15-inning marathon that lasted six hours and five minutes.
Paired with a win by the New York Yankees, the Red Sox advantage in the AL East is still three games.
In the 14th, the Red Sox took their first lead since the first inning, but Brandon Workman served up a home run to Kevin Kiermaier that tied the game and forced another inning.
After Jackie Bradley Jr. walked and Xander Bogaerts singled to start the 15th, Dustin Pedroia hit a grounder that scored Bradley for the go-ahead run on an error by second baseman Brad Miller. The floodgates opened and, after the Sox left men on base to end the ninth, 11th, 12th and 13th innings, they finally preserved a lead by tacking on six more runs in the 15th.
But the most alarming part of the evening happened in the first two hours, when Sale pitched a Jekyll and Hyde game that left plenty of questions about how well he can handle familiar opponents.
It’s been familiarity with the Cleveland Indians and Minnesota Twins that has allowed those teams to hit Sale like few others do. And it was familiarity that may have allowed the Rays to break through against the dominant lefty last night.
Six days earlier, he had shut them down.
This time, though, his sixth start of the year against the Rays, Sale was out of rhythm for most of his start until he walked off the mound with some words for manager John Farrell, who took him out after just 97 pitches.
Sale, who had thrown at least 97 pitches in all but two of his starts this season, had plenty to be upset about.
He can look at the tape and see what he was doing wrong in the first inning, when he walked two batters and allowed one run to score before pitching coach Carl Willis walked out to settle the ace down. Sale induced a groundball for a double play to end the inning.
Sale can look at video of the second and third innings and understand what went right. He was mowing down the Rays then, striking out five in a row, including one strikeout that spun Kiermaier around and caused him to land on his bottom.
And then Sale can try to…