BOSTON — With any support at all, Chris Sale could be 3-0 with his new team.
But the skinny left-hander got just enough help Saturday to get his first victory in a Red Sox uniform.
“It was good. It was fun,” Sale said after his seven powerful innings were rewarded — barely — in a 2-1 decision over the Tampa Bay Rays in the second game of a four-game series.
“This is really a fun place to pitch. Getting the proverbial monkey off your back, I guess, is nice. It makes you feel more comfortable.”
Three starts, 21 2/3 innings, three runs allowed, 11 hits, 29 strikeouts, 1.25 ERA. And his team pushed across the third run of support they’ve given him, this one allowing him to get to 1-1.
“He’s worth the price of admission just to see him,” manager John Farrell said after his team improved to 6-5.
Just after Sale finished his outing with his 11th and 12th strikeouts, Sandy Leon’s bases-loaded RBI groundout snapped a 1-1 tie.
“Chris Sale dominant, strong, any adjective you want to attach to it,” Farrell said. “He’s got three power pitches for a lot of swing and miss and let’s face it three starts he’s made for us he’s not had any margin of error. We were able to push across a run late.”
The only run off Sale came in the third inning, on a two-out RBI single by Evan Longoria, who came to the plate 1-for-22 lifetime with eight strikeouts against Sale.
Sale, who uncharacteristically walked two in the third, got 11 outs retiring his last 10 batters, including a run of five straight strikeouts.
Farrell thought the injury that led to Tampa starter Jake Odorizzi leaving the game in the second inning and the subsequent delay may have hurt Sale. But the manager said, “Once he got through that inning, he got stronger as the game went along.”
Leon hit the first pitch from reliever Xavier Cedeno softly to the right side and second baseman Daniel Robertson’s only play was to first. That allowed Mitch Moreland — who opened the inning with his third hit of game, a single off loser Tommy Hunter (0-1) — to score.
Moreland greeted Erasmo Ramirez with his first homer in a Red Sox uniform in the second inning — after Odorizzi left with left hamstring tightness. Moreland also doubled, giving him at least one in eight of the last nine games.
Moreland, like Sale, is new to the team, and he was happy the new ace got his first win.
“The way he’s been throwing it doesn’t take a lot, does it?” said Moreland, whose homer was just the fifth by the team in 11 games. “It was nice to be able to put a couple of runs on the board for him to get a win for how well he’s pitched his three times out.”
Sale said, “Got a monkey of his back, too, getting that big homer.”
Matt Barnes relieved Sale and, with one out, walked two straight hitters, the second on four pitches. The count went to 2-0 toLongoria, but Barnes got him to hit into a double play.
Craig Kimbrel worked a perfect ninth for his fourth save, adding Boston’s 14th and 15th strikeouts of the game. He notched his 23rd straight save, the longest current streak in baseball.
“He was sharp. He was powerful,” Farrell said of his closer.
Odorizzi left the game after throwing his first pitch in the second inning, trying two warmup pitches before departing — and he will go oin the disabled list. He gave up a leadoff single in the first and then retired three straight batters.
“Sale was very very difficult, but I liked a lot of the at-bats,” said Rays manager Kevin Cash, who also liked the work of his bullpen under difficult circumstances.
“You lose your pitcher basically before the second inning even starts,” he said. “Everybody kind of takes notice. We’ve got to get efficient here. We’ve got to lengthen ourselves out. They were asked to do some things that we normally wouldn’t ask of them.”
Cash, whose team has lost four of its last five to drop to 6-6, said Chase Whitley would be brought up from the minors and added he didn’t expect Odorizzi to be out long.
NOTES: The Red Sox honored the fourth anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing in a pregame ceremony. … With all players wearing No. 42 on Jackie Robinson day, Red Sox RF Mookie Betts wore a t-shirt in batting practice that read “Equality.” … Boston CF Jackie Bradley Jr., on the 10-day disabled list with a right knee strain, took batting practice Saturday and is eligible to return Wednesday. He might do a brief rehab stint before coming back sometime this week. … RHP Alex Cobb, who hasn’t faced the Red Sox since before his Tommy John surgery and is 3-3 lifetime against Boston, goes for the Rays on Sunday, facing LHP Drew Pomeranz, who pitched well and won his first time out, just off the DL.