Angels outfielder Kole Calhoun raced to his left, eyes trained on a baseball slicing toward the right-field foul line at Fenway Park. If he didn’t get to it, the ball would skitter into no-man’s land. A Boston Red Sox batter would easily have an extra-base hit, maybe an inside-the-park homer, to lead off the fourth inning. Not an ideal situation for an Angels team that on Thursday struggled to pick up its starting pitcher.
Calhoun did not allow those circumstances to arise. He dived, fully extended his body and stuck out his right arm. The ball nestled into Calhoun’s glove, a few inches away from a fence that Calhoun might have crashed into if he were taller than 5 feet 10.
“I knew I had a chance to make a play and gave it a shot,” Calhoun said later. “Probably one of my better ones.”
The catch was so impressive, Boston fans cheered Calhoun when the replay streamed across the videoboard.
It was the Angels’ only highlight on a night they dropped their seventh straight game, falling 3-0 to a sputtering Red Sox squad that had lost nine of 11. Boston’s Chris Sale commanded all the attention, returning to vintage form with eight masterful innings.
Angels starter Dillon Peters tried to keep the Angels in the game. He mostly used his low-90s fastball to his advantage, striking out Rafael Devers twice and Sandy Leon once on high heaters. His curveball and changeup drew three swings-and-misses each. He allowed only five hits and struck out eight in six innings before relinquishing the mound to relievers Taylor Cole and JC Ramirez, who threw one scoreless inning apiece.
But the Red Sox twice did damage. Sam Travis jumped on a first-pitch, 93-mph heater down the middle and crushed it 443 feet to straightaway center field for a 2-0 Boston lead in the second. Sandy Leon led off the fifth inning with a solo shot that sailed over the Green Monster.
The Angels never recovered, handcuffed by an especially effective Sale.
Before Mike Trout led off the seventh inning with a single, Sale had retired 16 in a row. Shohei Ohtani, who reached second base on a dribbler that third baseman Rafael Devers let by him in the first, had owned the Angels’ only hit. No one else got to Boston’s lanky left-hander.
“I know this hasn’t been a vintage Chris Sale year, but when I’ve watched him on TV he hasn’t looked that different,” Angels manager Brad Ausmus said. “He can still reach back for the velocity when he needs it. His last couple years in Chicago he was doing similar. He’d coast at 91-93 and when he wanted to elevate the velocity, go to 96, especially with two strikes. That’s what he did tonight.”
Sale had been bled dry by the New York Yankees in two consecutive starts. Their high-octane offense scored a combined 14 runs over nine innings. Sale didn’t even make it out of the fourth inning when he left his last game.
His performances in those games were a microcosm of Sale’s overall struggles. The ace has struggled with his velocity all season. His ERA was under 3.00 in 2017 and 2018; this year, it shot up to 4.41.
On Thursday, he was the Sale of old. He only needed 97 pitches to get through eight innings. He fooled hitters with the 10-mph range of his fastball and his funky delivery. Sale tricked Justin Upton with sliders, striking him out three times. He threw the breaking ball to Trout for a strike on the outer edge of the plate, then came back inside with a 96-mph heater. Trout swung over it and went back to the dugout, striking out for the second at-bat in a row.
Albert Pujols struck out twice, too, including on a 98.4-mph fastball in the seventh inning. It was Sale’s hardest-thrown pitch of the season — and he still threw a 97-mph fastball to close the eighth inning.
“He looked the same to me,” Trout said. “Pretty nasty.”