BOSTON (AP) — For a change, Boston’s hitters made it a much easier night for Chris Sale.
Sale struck out eight over six innings and Dustin Pedroia hit a two-run homer in the first to get Boston’s offense off to a fast start, carrying the Red Sox to a 9-0 win over the Tampa Bay Rays on Saturday night.
It was the fourth consecutive win for the AL East-leading Red Sox, who remained 4 1/2 games ahead of the second-place Yankees.
Andrew Benintendi had three hits and three RBIs and Mitch Moreland drove in three for Boston.
“The early runs were also helpful in not making a stressful outing, with the six innings of work,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said. “He was able to pitch comfortably.”
Fifteen times in his 28 starts, the Red Sox had scored three or fewer runs when Sale was in the game.
“I appreciate them going off tonight,” he said.
Tampa Bay lost its third in a row, and has allowed nine runs or more in each game. The Rays entered the day 4 1/2 games behind the AL’s second wild-card spot.
Danny Espinosa had three singles for the Rays.
Sale (16-7) allowed six singles, walked two and increased his major-league leading strikeout total to 278. He lowered his ERA to 2.76.
Carson Smith, Heath Hembree and Blaine Boyer each worked an inning in relief.
Matt Andriese (5-3) got just five outs, giving up eight runs — six earned — and seven hits.
“Just not one of those good days,” he said. “I was out there throwing strikes, but they were too hittable pitches.”
For the second straight night, the Red Sox took control early, putting this one away by scoring three in the first and five in the second.
“That’s the second night in a row we kind of got beat up in the first inning and it kind of carried over,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “When you’re facing a guy like Chris Sale, it’s tough to come back.”
Boston won the series opener on Friday, 9-3.
Pedroia homered into the first row of Green Monster seats after Eduardo Nunez singled, making it 2-0. Moreland’s groundout scored the other run.
In the second, Benintendi had a two-run double off the Monster, lefty hitter Moreland a two-run single after Mookie Betts, a right-handed batter, was intentionally walked by righty Andriese, and the fifth run scored on third baseman Evan Longoria’s throwing error.
Rays: OF Steven Sousa Jr. was out after leaving Friday’s game with a bruised left knee he sustained running into a side wall along the right-field line.
Red Sox: INF Nunez limped out of the game after beating out an infield hit with a bruised right knee. He returned to the lineup after missing Friday’s game with minor back spasms, then singled in his first at-bat, stole second but got up gingerly after a headfirst slide. Farrell said he was likely out Sunday. . LHP David Price (left elbow inflammation) threw two simulated innings. “A good step obviously in his progression to game activity,” Farrell said.
Sale lives in Fort Myers, Florida and his family lives in the area, too. He’s watching the hurricane closely, keeping tabs on everyone.
“I think everyone knows that thing’s going right where I live and it’s rolling. You think about it and at the same time I have a job to do,” he said. “It’s tough. Everybody in my family lives down there. My wife and kids came up here. My in-laws are staying with my sister and my parents are getting out of there tomorrow. Everyone’s safe, but it’s still scary.”
Sale had struck out 12 or more each of the four times he faced the Rays this season. No pitcher had fanned 12 or more in five straight against a team in the last 100 years.
Bob Gibson, Nolan Ryan, Sam McDowell and Randy Johnson (twice) are the only others to do it four straight against a team.
Pedroia’s first career homer came 11 years ago, also going over the Monster.
Rays: RHP Alex Cobb (10-9, 3.64 ERA) is set to start the series finale Sunday. The Boston-born righty, a big Red Sox fan until he signed with the Rays in 2006, is 4-1 with a 3.34 ERA in his career in Fenway Park.
Red Sox: RHP Rick Porcello (9-16, 4.67) is in line to start. He’s 1-2 in his last three with a 6.48 ERA.
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