BOSTON — Chris Sale has had a few setbacks as Boston has rolled down the stretch and back toward the post-season.
Tuesday was another one of those nights.
Sale matched a career worst by giving up four home runs in a playoff tuneup, including a pair to Josh Donaldson, and the Red Sox lost 9-4 to the Toronto Blue Jays.
“You can’t have a good day at work every day,” Sale said. “Unfortunately, what I do is amplified because we’re here and we’re in the thick of it. To survive, you’ve got to win games. I’m not doing that, and I’m as frustrated as anybody on the planet about that.”
Teoscar Hernandez hit one of his two homers off Sale, and Kendrys Morales had the other against Boston’s ace lefty. Sale (17-8) allowed five runs in five innings and surrendered multiple homers for the third time in five starts. Sale last allowed four homers in a game Aug. 23, 2013 against Texas.
“You throw some bad pitches that get hit hard. I throw a lot of strikes. I’ve just got to be a little bit more careful with where I’m throwing them,” Sale said.
Boston’s magic number over the Yankees in the AL East is three with five games remaining. New York beat Tampa Bay 6-1.
After winning six straight, Boston has lost two in a row — a first since dropping three consecutive games from Sept. 2-4. Houston won later Tuesday, ensuring the AL East winner will open the playoffs on the road.
Sale did have eight strikeouts, giving him 308 for the season — five shy of Pedro Martinez’s club record set in 1999. The AL Cy Young Award candidate has a 2.90 ERA with one scheduled start remaining. Sale’s spot in the rotation comes up again Sunday, when the Red Sox host Houston in the regular-season finale. It’s not certain that Sale will make that outing, though.
“I think it’s probably too early to answer that definitely,” manager John Farrell said. “We just have to see how these final five games play out. We know where we stand, we know what’s ahead of us.”
J.A. Happ (10-11) pitched seven strong innings for the last-place Blue Jays, holding Boston to a run and four hits with nine strikeouts.
Donaldson homered in the first inning for the second straight game, then led off the third with his 33rd this season. The latter shot cleared the bullpen and reached the right-field seats to put Toronto ahead 2-1. Hernandez led off the fifth with a homer to left, and Morales added a two-run shot later that inning.
Boston was missing three injured starters in Dustin Pedroia, Mookie Betts and Eduardo Nunez, and it struggled against Happ. Xander Bogaerts led off the game with a single and scored on Chris Young’s double, but Happ got the next 16 batters in a row and kept the Red Sox off the bases until Bogaerts’ one-out single in the sixth.
“I felt like it’s definitely a good one to potentially end on,” Happ said.
Toronto added four runs in the eighth, two of them on Hernandez’s two-run shot to left that nearly cleared the Green Monster, and the Blue Jays led 9-1.
Sandy Leon led off the eighth with a homer, and Young hit an RBI triple for Boston in a three-run eighth.
Sale threw 107 pitches. He said can be ready for Sunday if needed, or the playoff opener.
“That’s not my call,” he said. “I answer the phone when it rings. When they tell me to go out there, I go out there.”
Red Sox: Pedroia (left knee swelling) was out of the lineup for the second straight game. Farrell said the club wants Pedroia to heal up and have him back for the playoffs. … Betts (left hand/wrist) and Nunez (knee) are listed as day-to-day.
Blue Jays: RHP Marco Estrada (10-8, 4.70 ERA) has won his last five decisions and gets the start for Toronto.
Red Sox: RHP Rick Porcello (10-17, 4.55) is 1-2 in three starts against the Blue Jays this season.