The best left-handed pitcher east of the Mississippi since the start of the decade walked off the mound Saturday with his head down. Boos from the home crowd initially rained before a merciful chorus of applause and cheers drowned them out. There were two out in the fifth inning at Fenway Park and the Boston Red Sox ace’s night was over.
The Dodgers’ recent offensive slump, which propelled their four-game losing streak, had been pronounced against left-handed pitching. Snapping out of it so emphatically against Chris Sale, even as he wades through a relatively disappointing season, seemed improbable. But the Dodgers knocked Sale around in a 11-2 win to halt their skid and a seven-game losing streak at this New England relic.
Los Angeles pitted Ross Stripling against Sale, and the right-hander recorded his best outing since returning to the starting rotation last month. Stripling allowed one run, punched out seven, and walked none over five innings against an offense averaging eight runs per game over the last two weeks. The only costly mistake he made was the fastball Xander Bogaerts drove over the Green Monster in the fourth inning.
Joe Kelly relieved Stripling in the sixth inning to make his first appearance against his former club since signing with the Dodgers. He ignited a familiar blaze — this one was sparked by two hits, a walk, an error, a 99-mph wild pitch, and a couple of broken bats — but extinguished it with a strikeout of Christian Vazquez on 3-and-2 fastball to strand two runners and limit the Red Sox (50-42) to one run. Julio Urias secured the final nine outs with three flawless innings.
Justin Turner, Cody Bellinger, A.J. Pollock, and Max Muncy each supplied solo home runs. Turner slugged his homer off Sale in the third inning. Bellinger and Pollock went back-to-back against knuckleballer Steven Wright in the Dodgers’ four-run seventh. Bellinger, celebrating his 24th birthday, smashed a 433-foot blast for his 31st this season. Pollock, playing in his second game since coming off the injured list, lined his just over the Green Monster. It was his first since April 17. Muncy’s missile to straightaway center field capped off the scoring in the ninth inning as the Dodgers tallied their first double-digit scoring output outside of Denver’s thin air since May 26.
Fair or not, this weekend’s series — along with every other one against premier American League competition this season, including next month’s encounter with the New York Yankees — was slated for use as fodder to measure the Dodgers’ standing among the elite. Yes, they have been, by far, the best team in the National League and three-game, midseason blips are not sufficient sample sizes. But consensus is the AL features more top-tier clubs. Boston’s convincing five-game triumph over the Dodgers (61-33) in the World Series last October only stoked the widespread opinion.
“I think it's fun to debate and to see a team that you don't see very often,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “And, obviously, that’s a team that we lost to in the World Series. But we know the talent that we have and if there is an opportunity to go through Boston or New York down the road, I don't think that we're too concerned about that right now.”
Roberts, the Dodgers added, just needed to win against anybody from any league. They hadn’t won one since the Fourth of July. They began their march to a victory Saturday immediately.
Chris Taylor led off the game with a walk. After two strikeouts, Bellinger extended the inning with an infield single on a dribbler to Sale. Pollock smacked an RBI single the other way for the game’s first run.
The Dodgers completed their work against Sale in the fifth. Enrique Hernandez singled and Austin Barnes was hit by a pitch to begin the inning. Two batters later, Turner smacked a line drive down the left-field line to score Hernandez. David Freese followed with another double to drive in two more.