BALTIMORE — Chris Sale was at his very best — right down to his momentous last pitch — in another meaningful victory for the Red Sox.
Sale struck out 13 to become the first AL pitcher in 18 years to reach the 300 mark, and the Red Sox clinched a playoff berth hours after beating the Baltimore Orioles 9-0 on Wednesday night.
Boston (88-64) was assured at least a wild card and its second consecutive trip to the postseason when the Angels lost 6-5 to the Indians. Of course, the Red Sox are looking for much more than that. They lead the AL East by three games over the rival Yankees with 10 to play as Boston pursues its third division title in five years.
“Given where we are in the standings and what is at stake, every win is important,” manager John Farrell said. “Just getting into the playoffs is not our goal.”
Sale (17-7) reached the milestone on his 111th and final pitch, a called third strike against Ryan Flaherty to end the eighth inning. The last AL pitcher to fan 300 batters in a season was Boston’s Pedro Martinez in 1999, when he set a club record with 313.
Farrell sent Sale back out for the eighth inning to give him a shot at getting No. 300.
Thing is, the left-hander had no idea he was at 299 when the inning started.
“No, I didn’t,” Sale said. “I went out there and struck out the last guy and everyone started losing it. I knew I was close, but I didn’t know I needed just one more.”
Mookie Betts and Deven Marrero homered for the Red Sox.