BOSTON – It was a numbers game for Chris Sale. Everyone wondered: How many?

Turns out it was four … but we’re not talking strikeouts.

Sale gave up a season-high four home runs Tuesday night against the Toronto Blue Jays.

Fans love to count the strikeouts – and Sale had eight on Tuesday – but the home runs are a concern.

The Red Sox ace is showing signs of mortality in the closing days of the season. Sale tends to fade late in the year. This is not good news for a team having trouble putting the American League East away.

Before Tuesday’s game, the Red Sox had reason to be confident. Their magic number was three to clinch the division. It still is.


But the other number that was one people’s mind was 13. Sale entered the game with 300 strikeouts this season, 13 away from Pedro Martinez’s Red Sox record of 313 (1999).

Manager John Farrell was asked before the game about Sale’s chance at 13 strikeouts. He justifiably frowned.

“I’m not thinking about it right now,” Farrell said. “He has struck out a ton of people.

“But we’ve got to clinch. We’ve got games to win.”

True enough. Boston needs to dispatch the pesky Yankees and just as important, needs to tune up this team in time for the postseason next week.

Right now there are some misfires that need attention.


Mookie Betts sat out Tuesday with a swollen left wrist and hand.

Dustin Pedroia missed another game with his sore knee.

And Eduardo Nunez did nothing but rehab, trying to get his sore knee to cooperate. Betts and Pedroia are day-to-day – but who knows with Pedroia? Nunez has no timetable and that can’t be good news.

Boston hid its issues well on a recent 8-1 trip, but now has lost two straight.

Now the Red Sox must be concerned about Sale.

Sale struck out three in the first inning, which would have been cause for joy except for Josh Donaldson’s home run on a slider that didn’t drop enough. Sale also walked a batter in the first.


In the second, Sale struck out two – but also gave up a single and another walk.

He was laboring with 43 pitches.

For most of the season, Sale seemed to succeed effortlessly. He is 17-8 with a 2.90 ERA. But he’s 2-2 (3.72) in September.

That’s a trend for Sale. In his career, he’s 91-58 with a 2.98 ERA. But in September/October, he is 11-16 (3.78).

Sale’s fastball hit 99 mph and his slider had movement. But there were mistakes.

Pitches were left up, which had the Blue Jays teeing off.


“(His pitches) found the middle of the plate,” Farrell said. “Very good stuff, a lot of power but mis-located tonight.”

Sale is in an off-and-on rut of inconsistency.

“I can’t say there has been fluctuation to the power or the shape of his secondary pitches,” Farrell said. “More than anything it comes down to command.

“That was the case three starts ago in Tampa (four runs in 52/3 innings), and then here tonight. Two starts ago in Baltimore (eight shutout innings) he was as dominant with quality location as he’s had all year.

“The common thread is the location, the consistency of it.”

Inconsistent command is a problem. We’ve seen power pitchers like Josh Beckett and Jon Lester come out firing and get whacked.


Sale isn’t falling apart but Boston needs an ace. Drew Pomeranz also seems to be fading, with his fastball trending at a hitable 90 mph. Rick Porcello is up and down this year. Eduardo Rodriguez can be great and then not-so-much.

Everyday players are getting hurt and now the pitching rotation isn’t a sure thing.

Farrell wouldn’t commit to pitching Sale again Sunday. It seems obvious, he will if the Red Sox still haven’t clinched.

“It’s early to answer that (if Sale will pitch Sunday). We just have to see how these final five games play out,” Farrell said.

“We know where we stand and we know what’s ahead of us. We have to go out and take care of business.”

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