BOSTON — It looked like a good pitch, a 2-2 96-mph fastball down and in to Derek Norris. But Norris gave it a ride to left-center as Chris Sale’s shoulders slumped.

“I thought it was going to go over the fence,” Sale said. “And then I thought it was going to be off the wall.”

But center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. settled under it at the base of the wall, squeezing it for the final out of the seventh inning. It was also Sale’s 111th pitch and the Fenway Park crowd was already on its feet, applauding, while Sale was still staring toward the outfield.

“I was shocked that he caught it. It took me a little bit” to hear the ovation,” Sale said.

“But once I crossed the foul line I looked up. That’s special. That’s fun. You get goosebumps thinking about it. It’s a fun place to pitch. I thoroughly enjoy doing it here.”

As long as Chris Sale is happy – and striking out 10-plus batters a game – Fenway’s faithful thoroughly enjoy watching him. He struck out 12 on Saturday in a 6-3 win over Tampa Bay.

A Chris Sale start has become must-see baseball in Boston. The comparison has been made before but it’s true. Fenway has not been this jazzed over a starting pitcher since Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez was mowing them down in the late 90’s and early 2000’s.

Those were electric times at the ballpark as Dominican flags waved throughout the crowd, and a buzz generated every time Martinez got two strikes on a batter.

Well, here we go again, without the flags (and I don’t think banners from Sale’s native Florida would have the same meaning).

But the strikeouts are there. Sale not only leads the majors with 85 but has made seven straight starts with at least 10 strikeouts in each. It’s the second time Sale has had such a streak.

Fans display a K for each of Boston Red Sox's Chris Sale's strikeouts during the seventh inning of a baseball game against the Tampa Bay Rays, Saturday, May 13, 2017, in Boston.

Do you know how many others have seven straight starts with at least 10 strikeouts?


Martinez (twice).

Randy Johnson.

Nolan Ryan.

Ever hear of those guys? Sale is in elite company. His previous streak of 10-plus strikeouts, in 2015, lasted eight starts.

Sale, with his funky delivery and deceptive three-quarters arm slot, struck out seven of the first 10 batters Saturday.

“He’s got the ability to just kind of kick it in different gears,” Rays Manager Kevin Cash said.

“You’ve got a guy who’s left-handed, throwing from that slot with a power fastball. And then (he has) the ability to throw a really good, diving change-up and a sweeping slider. With that, you’re going to have your hands full.”

Still, Sale looked like he might get the loss after the top of the fifth inning. Sale gave up only two hits but both were homers to right field – Logan Morrison’s solo shot in the second on a change-up, and Kevin Kiermaier’s two-run blast in the fifth on an 0-2, 98-mph fastball.

Both batters were left-handed. Before those homers, left-handers were 3 for 20 against Sale this year with no extra-base hits.

“I was hot. I was (upset) after that,” Sale said. “Giving up home runs to lefties … and, not only that, but I gave up the lead.”

Indeed, Boston trailed 3-2. In five of Sale’s seven previous starts, the Red Sox have scored two runs or less while he was on the mound.

But the Red Sox scored four in the bottom of the fifth.

“It feels great, (considering) all that he’s done this year,” right fielder Mookie Betts said. “We know he’s going to give his all.”

Sale was tickled with the rally.

“Nice when I hit rough patches and my team was right there behind me to pick me up,” Sale said.

As for his blazing start, Sale will admit that his work and preparation are paying off.

“That’s part of it. A little bit of some luck, too,” he said. “And confidence. I know I say it a lot, but I can go out there and do my job, knowing I have teammates behind me, and guys that are going to make plays.

“I’m just trying to find a good rhythm and tempo. That’s the key to good pitching. Just going out there and trying to get into a groove.”

Some groove. Along with his 85 strikeouts in 582/3 innings, Sale has a 2.15 ERA. Opponents are batting .160 against him and his walk/hits per inning (WHIP) is 0.77.

Saturday was “almost a carbon copy of the previous starts,” Farrell said.

“Swing-and-miss pitches (16 of them), competitive, quick pace, deep into game … (same) blueprint.”

His starts really are must-see baseball. Betts thinks so.

“I don’t know how much better you’re going to get than Chris Sale,” he said.