In battle of lefties, Chris Sale beats Tarik Skubal in Detroit Tigers’ 5-2 loss to Red Sox

Detroit Free Press

Before Friday’s game, the Boston Red Sox reinstated left-handed starter Chris Sale, a consistent Cy Young candidate before injuries derailed the past four years of his career, from the 60-day injured list.

His first start in return from the injured list went pretty well, at least for 14 batters.

The 34-year-old — a seven-time All-Star — had a perfect game intact against the Detroit Tigers with two outs in the fifth inning when Kerry Carpenter, a left-handed hitter, spoiled Sale’s perfection by hitting a misplaced slider for a solo home run to right-center field.

“We didn’t get anything going against him until Carp’s homer,” Tigers manager A.J. Hinch told reporters at Fenway Park. “He threw like 70% strikes, and the velocity was up to 95-96 (mph) again. That was vintage Sale and more aggressive than we expected. He really commanded the day.”

The solo home run led to a two-run fifth inning, but the Tigers lost, 5-2, in Friday’s series opener in Boston The Tigers (52-64) had their winning streak snapped at three games.

After Carpenter’s home run, Sale hit Javier Báez with a two-strike slider to put a runner on first base. The hit-by-pitch ended Sale’s 12th start of the season with two outs in the fifth inning.

His replacement, right-handed reliever Kyle Barraclough, walked Zack Short on five pitches. The Tigers countered Barraclough’s handedness by bringing Riley Greene, a left-handed hitter, off the bench to pinch-hit for Eric Haase.

Greene delivered an RBI single to right field to cut the Tigers’ deficit to 4-2.

The top of the fifth ended when Matt Vierling struck out swinging to strand a pair of runners on the bases.

“Any time you can come back a little bit, it’s nice,” Hinch said. “We still had a couple more runners on base. If we could’ve gotten one more two-out hit, we would have made it even better for us.”

Sale allowed two runs on one hit and zero walks with seven strikeouts across 4⅔ innings, throwing 42 of 58 pitches for strikes. He generated 12 whiffs with seven four-seam fastballs, four sliders and one sinker.

“They had the biggest swings of the night,” Hinch said, “and they had the biggest pitching performances of the night. Not great when that happens for us.”

The Tigers were held to three base runners — Spencer Torkelson’s hit-by-pitch with one out in the sixth, Short’s walk with two outs in the seventh and Carpenter’s walk with two outs in the ninth — over the final four innings.

Báez struck out swinging to end the game.

Skubal’s start

A throwing error by Báez gifted Rob Refsnyder, the leadoff hitter in the first inning, a free base to start the game. The misplay put left-hander Tarik Skubal in a bind from the beginning.

A single from Rafael Devers, the second batter of the game, put runners on the corners, and with one out, Masataka Yoshida grounded into a force out. On the ground ball, Refsnyder scored to put the Red Sox ahead, 1-0.

“They did stress him probably as much as anybody has in his time back (from the injured list),” Hinch said. “I think he was under duress from the beginning. … It felt like they were finding ways to get balls to the outfield and move the ball forward quite a bit.”

Báez made up for his first-inning throwing error with an incredible diving stop and glove flip to start a double play in the second inning. Second baseman Andy Ibáñez and first baseman Torkelson completed the play.

Skubal put runners on the corners in the third inning but worked out of the jam. In the fourth inning, singles from Trevor Story and Pablo Reyes put runners on the corners for the third time in four innings.

This time, the Red Sox burned Skubal.

Triston Casas, a rookie who played 27 games in 2022, blasted a hanging slider in the heart of the strike zone. His 401-foot home run, a three-run shot, extended Boston’s lead to 4-0.

Skubal finished the fourth inning with back-to-back outs against Connor Wong (flyout) and Refsnyder (groundout). He escaped a one-out walk in the fifth inning with an inning-ending double play, featuring Báez once again.

“Every inning, he had something he had to deal with,” Hinch said.

Intentional walk backfires

The Tigers replaced Skubal, calling recently activated right-handed reliever Will Vest out of the bullpen, after Alex Verdugo’s strikeout in the sixth inning. Before the first out, Story ripped a leadoff single and stole second base.

Vest recorded the second out in four pitches, thanks to a running catch by Greene in left-center field, but the Tigers intentionally walked Casas in favor of a matchup between Vest and Wong. The decision backfired, as Wong hit a down-and-away slider for a ground-ball single into right field.

The Red Sox took a 5-2 lead.

“That’s a 1.200 OPS for Casas in the second half,” Hinch said. “He’s been one of the best hitters in the big leagues in the second half. We loved the matchup behind him, but they won the matchup.”

Skubal allowed five runs (four earned runs) on seven hits and two walks with three strikeouts over 5⅓ innings, throwing 59 of 94 pitches for strikes. He used 30 four-seam fastballs (32%), 26 sliders (28%), 17 sinkers (18%), 15 changeups (16%) and six knuckle curves (6%).

He generated an underwhelming eight whiffs on three fastballs, three sliders and two changeups.

Contact Evan Petzold at or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.

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