The Royals came into the night hoping to snap a four-game losing slide that started over the weekend in Texas, but the defending World Series champion Boston Red Sox refused to cooperate with that desire.
Instead, the Red Sox battered a pitching staff that had given up five runs or more in each of its previous four games. The Red Sox pounded out 11 hits and handed the Royals their third shutout of the year as the Royals fell 8-0 in front of an announced 15,523 at Kauffman Stadium on Wednesday night.
Red Sox starting pitcher Chris Sale (2-7) dominated in his 330th career appearance (220th start) to earn his first win since May 3. Sale struck out 12 in nine innings. He didn’t walk a batter, and held the Royals to just three hits. He needed just 102 pitches to pick up his third career shutout, his first since April 15, 2016.
The Royals will try to avoid a series sweep and try to end their losing skid in the series finale on Thursday afternoon.
“He was tough,” Royals center fielder Billy Hamilton said of Sale. “He had everything working for him. He wasn’t just the two-pitch guy that I thought I was going to get. He worked the changeup. He had the slider working. He was coming after guys. Once I looked up and he had 40-something pitches with 30-something strikes.”
Sale, a left-hander and seven-time all-star, pitched an immaculate inning in the eighth with nine pitches, all strikes, as he struck out the side.
Royals hitters Whit Merrifield, Cheslor Cuthbert and Kelvin Gutierrez each had one hit.
“He was really good,” Royals manager Ned Yost said of Sale. “He had three pitches working. A good fastball that started out, you know, 90 (mph). It got up in the middle innings to 95, spotting it well. A more slurvey breaking ball than we’ve seen in the past and a really good changeup.”
The Royals have been mired in a dreadful offensive funk of late. They’d averaged just two runs per game during their four-game losing slide.
In a five-game spanning leading into Wednesday night, Royals hitters had gone .186 with runners in scoring position. They didn’t have an at-bat with a runner in scoring position against Sale.
“It was just one of those nights where we couldn’t do much on either side of the ball,” Yost said.
Royals starting pitcher Jakob Junis’ steady improvement over his past three starts quickly faded into a memory on Wednesday night.
Junis (4-6) gave up two first-inning runs, the first on a ground ball back to the mound with runners on the corners and one out.
Junis decided to go to second for the double play. However, the runner at third never fully retreated to the bag, and he scored on the play as the batter beat out the throw to first.
Brock Holt’s single on the ground through the right side of the infield drove in the second run.
The Red Sox finished off Junis’ day by scoring four runs in the fifth inning. Rafael Devers’ RBI double started the scoring. After a walk to Xander Bogaerts and a Holt infield single, Jackie Bradley hit a three-run double that gave the Red Sox and Sale more than enough runs to work as the Royals trailed 6-0 through five innings.
“Just one batter too many,” Junis said. “Bradley hit a good pitch, and unfortunately it cleared the bases.”
The Red Sox increased their lead to eight runs in the seventh on a Devers solo home run and a sacrifice fly by Sandy Leon.
Junis, who’d allowed two earned runs in his most recent start, gave up six runs (five earned) on eight hits, three walks and five strikeouts in 4 2/3 innings. He also struck out five in his shortest outing since he went 4 1/3 in a loss to Philadelphia at Kauffman Stadium on May 12.