Chris Sale is close to being back to his old self.
Backed by Emmanuel Valdez’s three-run homer, Sale allowed just three hits — two of them home runs — in seven innings for the Boston Red Sox, who beat San Diego 4-2 Saturday night to send the Padres plummeting to their fourth straight loss and 11th in 13 games.
The 34-year-old Sale (4-2) had his fourth strong start and helped the Red Sox win their fourth straight game. The lefty allowed homers to Juan Soto and Fernando Tatis Jr., but otherwise shut down a superstar-studded offense with baseball’s third-highest payroll that continues to look lost at the plate.
Sale, a seven-time All-Star who has been plagued by injuries, was making just his 20th start since 2019.
“I feel like I’m trending in a good direction,” Sale said. “I’ve been around here too long to feel like I’ve been on top of a mountain at all. I still have a lot of work to do. I know where I’m at, I know what I’m doing, but it takes a lot of hard work, not only from myself, but everyone around here.”
Sale got all the backing he needed when Valdez drove a pitch from Joe Musgrove (1-2) several rows into the right field seats with one out in the second, his third. Sale allowed Soto’s shot to right-center leading off the second, his eighth, and Tatis’ 440-foot shot into the second deck in left leading off the sixth, his seventh.
Sale struck out eight and walked one. He has gone six-plus innings in each of his last four starts and has struck out a total of 27 batters in his last three.
“Overall, everything he’s been working on is paying off and he’s in a great spot,” manager Alex Cora said.
After giving up Soto’s home run, Sale retired nine straight batters. He got into and out of a jam in the fifth. After giving up Tatis’ homer and a double by Ha-Seong Kim, he retired his final six batters.
“Obviously when your offense gets on the board first, it kind of gives you that boost of energy you need,” Sale said. “Overall, just a good game by the guys.”
He was able to shake off Soto’s home run.
“Especially after a homer, strike one is the next best pitch,” Sale said. “That was a big homer. This place gets going. No matter what happens, you’ve got to get back on and throwing strikes. The key to getting out of all that is through the strike zone, not around it. That’s a heck of a lineup, too. You fall behind, they can do some damage.
“For me, it’s attack, attack, stay aggressive and rely on my defense.”
Shortstop Kiké Hernández made two big plays, including a spectacular sliding stop of Tatis’ grounder and throw to first to end the third.
“I have a lot of confidence in the guys behind me,” Sale said. “I like punching guys out; I think every pitcher does. But we’ve got a lot of guys in the outfield that run really quick, we’ve got great hands obviously in the infield and those were two big plays that just kind of shut it down. I probably don’t finish the seventh inning without those two plays being made. Those are obviously big-time.”
Kenley Jansen, who blew each of his previous two save opportunities, walked two in the ninth before closing it out for his 10th save and first since he earned his 400th career save on May 10.
The Red Sox twice successfully challenged out calls on the base paths and both runners eventually scored.
Raimel Tapia was called out at third on the front end of a double steal in the second, but the call was overturned after review. He was aboard for Valdez’s homer. In the fourth, Hernández was originally called out sliding headfirst into second on a fly ball to left-center but the call was overturned after replays showed he got his left hand onto the bag before second baseman Jake Cronenworth tagged him. He advanced on Connor Wong’s single and scored on Alex Verdugo’s base hit to left to make it 4-1.
Musgrove allowed four runs and six hits in five innings, struck out six and walked one.
The Red Sox go for a sweep behind RHP Corey Kluber (2-5, 6.41 ERA), while the Padres counter with RHP Michael Wacha (4-1, 4.06).