A pitcher dreams of starts like this, his team giving him a big early lead before he even throws a pitch. Of course, teams dream of having a starting pitcher like Chris Sale.
The two came together in brilliant fashion on a warm Friday night, with the Boston Red Sox scoring five times in the top of the first and Sale throwing six scoreless innings in a 6-2 victory over the Los Angeles Angels.
"We spotted him five runs in the first inning," said Red Sox manager John Farrell. "I thought we did an outstanding job of stringing hits together, hitting pitches where they were located and using the whole field."
And then turning it over to Sale, who continued his dominating season.
Sale (12-4) allowed four hits and struck out nine to push his major league-leading total to 200. He walked one and lowered his American League-best ERA to 2.48.
"I've not been around a pitcher who's had that kind of focus," Farrell said. "His strikeout capability is certainly unique. He's an elite pitcher. And it's not just with one pitch. It's three different ones he can get strikeouts with."
He became just the fourth pitcher to reach the 200-strikeout mark in 20 or fewer starts, joining Hall of Famers Nolan Ryan, Randy Johnson (three times) and Pedro Martinez.
"It's cool," Sale said. "I appreciate it. I'm not the biggest fan of looking at stuff like that. Those are things for the offseason or to tell my grandkids."
Sale has won 11 of his last 13 decisions. He improved to 6-0 against the Angels with a 1.23 ERA in seven starts (nine games).
"He's really deceptive, uses both sides of the plate and has really good secondary stuff," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said.
Boston jumped on erratic Angels starter Ricky Nolasco (4-11) in the first, with six of its first seven batters collecting a hit. Nolasco went four innings and allowed all six runs on nine hits and a walk.
The Angels avoided a shutout when Martin Maldonado hit a solo home run off reliever Kyle Martin in the seventh. It was his 11th homer of the season.
Jackie Bradley Jr. made a tremendous, leaping catch as he flew into the center-field wall on a drive by Yunel Escobar to lead off the bottom of the first inning.
"Jackie made a spectacular catch going up against the wall, as he's done so many times," Farrell said. "That was a play he was all out, right to the point of impact. Thankfully there's padding there."
All Sale could do was be appreciative.
"It seems like once he makes a great catch, it's like, OK, that's the best catch," he said. "Then he makes another and then that's the best one. It just seems like he's always raising the bar. It's fun to watch."
The Angels are 5-15 in games Nolasco has started this season, and 42-36 all the others.
"All you can do is wear it," Nolasco said.
The Red Sox are not the only team getting some strong defensive play.
The Angels have now gone 14 consecutive games without committing an error, matching the franchise record.
Red Sox: Right-hander Joe Kelly (strained left hamstring) remained in Boston and threw long-toss. ... With Eduardo Rodriguez (partial shoulder dislocation) back, right-hander Doug Fister is moving to the bullpen. In five games (four starts), Fister is 0-4 with a 7.89 ERA.
Angels: Right-hander Matt Shoemaker (forearm strain) threw lightly for the first time in two weeks. "He's taking baby steps right now," Scioscia said. "We won't have a read on him for another seven to 10 days." ... Left-hander Tyler Skaggs (right oblique strain) is scheduled to throw four innings Saturday for Triple-A Salt Lake. ... Outfielder Shane Robinson left the game after four innings with upper back spasms.