Over a total of 22 innings, he allowed a mere 11 hits, two walks and not a single run. Each outing was, simply, domination, all of which didn’t bode well for their fourth encounter with the left-hander Tuesday night.
Yet in Game No. 157 of the 2017 season, the Blue Jays not only solved Sale and his limbs-all-over, Tasmanian-Devil delivery, they pummelled him, led by Josh Donaldson, who homered in the first and third innings to kick-start a 9-4 victory.
Teoscar Hernandez, who continues to generate excitement, and Kendrys Morales also took him deep, as Sale allowed four home runs for only the second time in his career, the first coming Aug. 23, 2013 against Texas. He gave up eight hits and two walks, compared to seven hits and a walk combined over his previous two starts against the Blue Jays.
“I just think our approach was different. I don’t know if it was anything else besides that,” Donaldson said. “He’s definitely morphed into a different type of pitcher than what I’ve seen over the past four seasons, and he’s a very good pitcher. Sometimes it takes a little longer than other guys. Today, we did a pretty good job of executing, and I’ll leave it at that.”
Hernandez added another homer, a three-run shot off Heath Hembree, in the eighth, too, while J.A. Happ closed out his season with a seven-inning gem, allowing a run on four hits and no walks with nine strikeouts.
Predominantly riding his two- and four-seam fastballs, Happ repeatedly induced weak contact when he wasn’t fooling Red Sox hitters. He abused Andrew Benintendi during a fourth-inning at-bat, the rookie left-fielder twice left in agony after fouling balls off his right leg.
Left playing catchup after a mid-April elbow injury cost him six weeks, Happ rolled in the second half, allowing only one run in eight of his final 11 starts. Not a bad way to go out.
“I went back and looked at some of the at bats from this game and I felt like it’s a good one to potentially end on,” said Happ. “I felt I was on the edges of the plate a lot using pretty much the whole arsenal.
“A strong way to finish.”
Donaldson, in the midst of a second straight MVP-calibre month, made sure the gem didn’t go to waste, hitting his ninth and 10th homers this month after a 12-dinger August. The way he did it, against two different pitches in totally different locations, demonstrated why he’s such an elite hitter.
In the first, he turned on a middle-down slider and bashed it over the Monster in left-centre field to open the scoring. Then, leading off the third, he attacked a first-pitch, up-and-away two-seamer and sent it over the wall in centre for a 2-1 Blue Jays lead.
“I wasn’t necessarily looking for that pitch itself, but all season long he’s kind of finessed me a lot,” said Donaldson. “He’s thrown me a lot of off-speed, a lot of changeups, a lot of curveballs and today I just made my mind up that that’s what I was going to look for. It was able to work out.”
Hernandez ambushed a first-pitch changeup in the fifth and, after a Jose Bautista double, Morales caught a hanging slider on the outer half and banged it. Sale finished out the inning before his night ended.
“I was looking for a breaking ball,” Hernandez, who got some advice from Donaldson before facing Sale for the first time, said of his approach. “He has three pitches. The slider and the changeup are the easiest ones to hit. I was looking for the breaking ball. He gave me that one and I hit it very hard.”
Hernandez didn’t stop there, following Ryan Goins’ RBI single in the eighth by pounding a cookie two-seamer well over the Monster, his second multi-homer game of his career, both this month.
“He’s up there making adjustments and ultimately what a lot of good hitters do is take advantage of mistakes,” said Donaldson. “What he’s doing right now is he’s getting pitches to hit and when he gets those pitches to hit he’s hitting the ball hard.”
What he’s also doing is soaking up knowledge from his veteran teammates while making an impression.
“Seeing Josh Donaldson hit is exciting. You learn a lot from him,” said Hernandez. “If I get the chance to ask some questions every day, I ask him. He’s helped me a lot. He helped me today. Being in front of that guy and being on base for him is the best thing.”
Hernandez struck out in his three other at-bats, filling his night with two of the three true outcomes.
Up until Tuesday night, Sale dominating the Blue Jays might have been considered a fourth true outcome, too. But they finally got him, and got him good.