Chris Sale reached a milestone Thursday night at Fenway Park.
The Boston Red Sox starter struck out Los Angeles Angels second baseman Luis Rengifo looking to end the top of the fifth and become the fifth pitcher in MLB history to record 200-plus strikeouts in seven consecutive seasons:
Thursday's accomplishment is a silver lining to an otherwise down season for Sale. His last outing Aug. 3 against the New York Yankees showcased that, as he allowed eight earned runs—including two home runs—on nine hits through 3.2 innings prior to being ejected.
Sale began this season 0-6.
Entering this game, the 30-year-old southpaw held a 5-11 record paired with career-highs in ERA (4.68), FIP (3.55) and WHIP (1.138). However, Red Sox manager Alex Cora offered some encouragement while speaking to WEEI's Ordway, Merloni and Fauria on Wednesday (h/t NESN):
"I feel he was better, his slider was better early in the game. And it was about the slider, and it was plain, you saw it. It’s not that he avoided the fastball, but he got some swings and misses, some takes on the backdoor breaking ball, but after that it snowballed. It’s going to help his slider, his slider shape. Hopefully the next one, he keeps doing it, and we get a better one."
Sale's performance against the Angels was a step in that direction:
Cora and the reigning World Series champions need for Sale to find a way to harness his prolific strikeouts—he leads MLB by averaging 13.093 Ks per nine innings—into wins down the stretch, as the 60-56 Red Sox entered Thursday 16 games back in the American League East and six games behind Tampa Bay for the second AL wild-card spot.