BALTIMORE — After getting off to a miserable start, Chris Sale and the Boston Red Sox are beginning to perform to their usual high standard.
Sale struck out 10 over six sharp innings, J.D. Martinez homered in a third straight game and the surging Red Sox beat the Baltimore Orioles 7-2 on Saturday.
The defending World Series champions opened the season with nine losses in 12 games and were 9-15 on April 23. Now they’re 38-34 and can move five games over .500 for the first time by completing a three-game sweep Sunday.
“We’re still getting better. We have our own goals we plan on achieving,” manager Alex Cora said. “We’ve got to get to our short-term goals first.”
Sale lost his first five decisions and still isn’t close to getting his record to the break-even point, but he too is on a roll.
The only run Sale allowed came in the sixth, after the left-hander extended his streak of innings without allowing an earned run to 22.
Sale ended his outing by blowing a third strike past Keon Broxton with runners on the corners and Boston nursing a 3-2 lead. The seven-time All-Star has reached double figures in strikeouts nine times this season and 73 times in his 10-year career.
He gave up six hits, walked one and looked every bit like the pitcher who entered the season with a 103-62 record.
‘Early on, I got into some bad habits and we were all able to figure that out,” he said. “I feel like I’m pitching a little bit better with my fastball, location-wise.”
Martinez hit his 16th home run, the fourth in three games, to provide the Red Sox with a two-run cushion in the seventh. The slugger has 12 homers in his last 28 games.
Boston pulled away to its fourth straight victory with a three-run ninth against Miguel Castro, much to the delight of the thousands of Red Sox fans among the announced crowd of 30,050.
After hitting 11 homers and scoring 20 runs in its previous two games, Boston managed only four singles through five innings before finally breaking through against Dylan Bundy (3-8) in the sixth.
Xander Bogaerts doubled in a run and scored on a single by Brock Holt before third baseman Hanser Alberto botched a grounder to let in an unearned run.
Baltimore got an RBI double from Renato Núñez and sacrifice fly from Jonathan Villar in the bottom half before Sale struck out Broxton for the third time.
The Orioles have now gone winless in 15 straight series (0-14-1) since taking two of three from the White Sox on April 22-24. In this one, Baltimore played “real sloppy defense,” according to manager Brandon Hyde, who proceeded to rattle off almost every one of his team’s miscues.
After he was finally done, Hyde referred to the list as “a lot of things that we can’t do because we can’t overcome them.” He added: “We’re not talented enough offensively, we don’t have shutdown guys on the mound to be able to win. So we have to play almost perfect, and we just didn’t play well.”
Baltimore owns the worst record in the majors (21-49) and worst record at home (9-27).
After crossing from center to right field to make a catch next to teammate Anthony Santander, Broxton took a moment to discuss the outfield coverage. Noticing this, Boston’s Andrew Benintendi tagged up and went to second base. Fortunately for Broxton, Bundy subsequently struck out Rafael Devers to end the first inning.
Orioles right-hander David Hess (1-9, 7.20 ERA) has been sent to the bullpen after making 12 straight starts without a victory. Rookie Josh Rogers, who pitched in relief on Friday night, will start Wednesday in Oakland.
The rotation now stands as Andrew Cashner, Bundy, John Means and Gabriel Ynoa. As for No. 5, Hyde says, “We’re going to be playing with that spot all year long.”
Red Sox: RHP Hector Velazquez (lower back strain) began a rehab assignment on Saturday by pitching a scoreless inning for Class A short season Lowell. … Steven Wright, recovering from knee injury as he nears his return from an 80-game suspension for violating baseball’s PED policy, will pitch two innings on Sunday for Triple-A Pawtucket. … 1B Steve Pearce (back) played first base and went 0 for 3 with Lowell on Saturday after being the DH on Friday in his first rehab game. … Closer Ryan Brasier (bereavement) is expected to return Monday.
Orioles: Cashner, who was scratched Friday because of a blister, will start Monday in Oakland.
Red Sox: Brian Johnson (1-0, 12.71 ERA) makes his first start of the season Sunday. The lefty was activated from the injured list Friday after dealing with elbow inflammation.
Orioles: John Means (6-4, 2.60) is 1-1 with a 0.69 ERA over 12 innings in two starts against Boston this year.