Uncomfortable watching his teammates play without him and uncertain how he would fare after spending two weeks on the disabled list, Chris Sale was both excited and curious as he prepared to pitch again for the Boston Red Sox.
Turns out, Sale was just as dominant as ever — maybe even more so.
Sale celebrated his return by striking out 12 in five shutout innings of one-hit ball, and the Red Sox moved 50 games over .500 by completing a sweep of the lowly Baltimore Orioles with a 4-1 victory Sunday.
Sale (12-4) was placed on the DL on July 28 with left shoulder inflammation. Judging by his performance, the injury is no longer an issue.
“You never really know what you’re going to get until you get out there,” the left-hander said. “I felt good, and I felt strong.”
Sale became the first pitcher at the current mound distance (since 1893) to throw five or fewer innings while allowing one or fewer hits and striking out at least 12 batters, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Red Sox manager Alex Cora had said Saturday that Sale could throw 100 pitches against Baltimore if he was not rusty. Sale left Sunday’s game after 68 pitches.
Sale allowed just a third-inning single to left field by Renato Nunez and walked none. He struck out the side twice and fanned at least two in his other three innings.
Best of all, he finally got to contribute to a victory.
“Going on DL is not a lot of fun. You don’t want to be on the sidelines,” Sale said. “I just want to go out there and give my team a chance to win. I had fun today. Today was a good day.”
It didn’t take long for the Orioles to realize they were in for a rough afternoon.
“Sale took it to a different level,” Baltimore manager Buck Showalter said. “The first fastball he threw today was 98. The second one was 99. He was throwing a changeup at 88, 90. Doesn’t seem fair.”
Sale is 7-0 over his past nine starts, a streak he began before making his third consecutive start in the All-Star Game on July 17. He owns a 0.20 ERA over his past seven outings — the best stretch by a Red Sox pitcher since ERA became a stat in 1913 — and leads the American League at 1.97 for the year.
As tempting as it was to send Sale out for another inning, or rush him into his next start, Cora has every intention of keeping his ace fresh.
“He’s starting next Sunday,” Cora said. “We’re just happy that he’s back.”
Craig Kimbrel, the last of five Boston relievers, worked the ninth for his 35th save.
Steve Pearce homered for the Red Sox, who have won 10 of 11 to improve to 85-35. Boston took all four at Camden Yards this week and is 14-2 against the Orioles, who are 49½ games behind the Red Sox in the AL East.
Baltimore struck out 18 times in its fifth straight loss. The Orioles have endured nine losing streaks of five games or more this season.
“Sale was on the bump today, and he had his good stuff,” shortstop Tim Beckham said. “It’s a grind. The whole season has been a grind.”
Alex Cobb (3-15) took the loss despite allowing only two runs, one earned, over seven innings.
“To pitch seven innings against that lineup in a day game, that’s impressive,” Showalter said. “We just couldn’t score any runs.”
After Mancini delivered a sacrifice fly in the eighth to make it 2-1, Matt Barnes struck out Beckham with the potential tying run on third.
Red Sox: Shortstop Xander Bogaerts was given the day off after jamming his left pinky finger sliding into third base Saturday night. X-rays were negative. … LHP Eduardo Rodriguez (right ankle sprain) had a bullpen session. “It was really good,” he said.
Orioles: OF/DH Mark Trumbo did not start because of a sore right knee. He entered as a pinch-hitter in the ninth and struck out.
Red Sox: Boston gets a day off Monday before starting a two-game series at Philadelphia on Tuesday. The Red Sox are 8-2 against the National League.
Orioles: After taking Monday off, Baltimore hosts the Mets on Tuesday and Wednesday. The Orioles beat the Mets 2-1 and 1-0 in June.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.