BOSTON – The exclamations, only some of them printable, were audible far from the mound even on a night that 35,178 fans packed into Fenway Park.
One seemingly celebratory yell followed a Mookie Betts strikeout in the third inning. A far more frustrated series of shouts came at the end of the fifth inning, when the Red Sox scored the game’s lone run on a wild pitch. Each one came from an animated Aaron Sanchez over the course of one of his best outings this year.
The start, Sanchez’s fourth since returning from the disabled list last month, wasn’t enough to stop the Red Sox, who won their 100th game of the season 1-0 behind a dominant David Price.
For the Blue Jays, Sanchez’s outing still represents a hugely positive development. The right-hander’s an important arm for the Blue Jays with two years of team control remaining after 2018, and the steady improvement he has shown since coming back from a finger contusion has been encouraging.
“I thought he was terrific, I really did,” said manager John Gibbons. “He keeps moving in the right direction.”
Sanchez pitched seven innings while allowing just one run on three hits and three walks Wednesday. He struck out six, combining a fastball that reached 95.4 m.p.h. with a curveball he threw 27 times and an effective change-up. For the second consecutive outing, an aggressive approach led to a quality start against a tough team.
“I’ve just got to get comfortable again,” Sanchez said. “I know what I can do in this game. It’s just a matter of being healthy. When I’m healthy, things like that happen, so you’ve just got to keep plugging along.”
Boston’s lone run scored on a wild pitch to Jackie Bradley Jr. in the fifth inning. Sanchez initially thought that the first pitch to Bradley Jr. should have been called a strike, so he left the mound in frustration before watching video and realizing that the pitch was a ball.
“I think that’s why I was a little bit more emotional,” he said. “I came and checked it and it was a ball in, so I got riled up for nothing, but when you’re out there in the heat of the battle trying to get outs–I’m a competitor.”
The seven innings Sanchez completed were the second-most he has logged all season, and the most since April 10. While it took him a while to re-gain feel for all of his pitches after two months on the disabled list, he’s gradually returning to form.
“He’s building,” Gibbons said. “He’s getting better and better. I think he’s a little more confident in his finger now. I don’t think it’s bothering him. Just keep going, kid, and finish the season strong and healthy.”
“In a lot of ways he has a fresh arm,” Gibbons added. “He doesn’t have a fresh finger, but he has a fresh arm.”
Price was just as effective, though, limiting the Blue Jays to only three hits over seven scoreless innings. The left-hander has been especially tough to hit since the all-star break, but as he said recently, he’ll be judged on what happens in the playoffs.
“I could go 35-0 in the regular season with a zero (ERA) and it wouldn’t matter,” Price said. “I need to win in October. That’s that. Regular season means nothing for me.”
From the third base dugout, Gibbons saw flashes of the pitcher who helped the Blue Jays reach the playoffs in 2015.
“I love everything about him,” Gibbons said. “I think this’ll be the year he wins some games in the playoffs. He deserves it.”
Even with Price on the mound, the Blue Jays started left-handed hitting rookie Rowdy Tellez at first base. On paper, it’s an unfavourable matchup for Tellez, but Gibbons liked his approach against lefty reliever Oliver Perez over the weekend. Plus, it was a chance to test Tellez against the game’s best.
“You think he’s a platoon player?” Gibbons asked before the game. “Shoot, if he’s going to be any good, you’ve got to play both ways.”
Tellez struck out both times he faced Price, but later doubled to lead off the eighth inning.
“Very grateful for the experience to face one of the best lefties in the game,” Tellez said, “But I obviously got overmatched. I swung at bad pitches. He made good pitches. He’s one of the best arms out there and he took me to school.”
The Blue Jays’ other hits came from Yangervis Solarte, who collected two singles, and Jonathan Davis, who picked up his first career hit.
But from the Blue Jays’ standpoint, the most important development came on the mound. As Gibbons might say, Sanchez looked like the old guy. Considering how effective he once was and how much time he missed, that’s pretty significant.