Chris Sale had just shut down one of the hottest teams in baseball, helping the banged-up Boston Red Sox take over sole possession of first place in the AL East for the first time all season.
And he looked as if he wanted to punch a wall.
Sale was two outs shy of his second consecutive complete game when Boston manager John Farrell trundled to the mound Tuesday night. But the left-hander's pitch count had already reached 110 on the way to an 8-3 victory over the Kansas City Royals, so Farrell's decision to summon a reliever was relatively easy.
If a bit hard to swallow for his competitive ace.
"A little frustrating," Sale said, "but at the end of the day we got the win. We're good."
Sale (9-3) gave up a homer to Mike Moustakas in the second inning and a two-run shot to Jorge Bonifacio in the ninth before leaving the game. The five-time All-Star allowed two other hits and a walk while pushing his major league-leading strikeout total to 146.
More importantly, he got a win after going the distance in a 1-0 loss to Philadelphia last week.
"We scored a bunch of runs today. That takes a lot of pressure off a pitcher," Sale said. "You can make mistakes and not have to worry about it. You can just pound the strike zone."
Xander Bogaerts and Sandy Leon each drove in a pair of runs for Boston, which got plenty of production from a lineup missing Pablo Sandoval, Dustin Pedroia and Mitch Moreland to various injuries.
First baseman Sam Travis and third baseman Deven Marrero, recalled from Triple-A Pawtucket earlier in the day, drove in early runs to get the Red Sox off and running. Mookie Betts and Chris Young also had RBIs as the new division leaders kept piling on.
Boston jumped a half-game ahead of the rival New York Yankees, who have lost seven in a row for their longest slide in a single season since April 2007.
"It's good to see the way guys have responded when guys have been down," Farrell said. "To do it on the road, to continue to win, that's a sign this team is becoming special."
Most of Boston's damage came against Royals youngster Matt Strahm (2-4), who struggled to follow up his dazzling first career start. The left-hander with a delivery eerily similar to Sale's was hammered for five runs on seven hits and a walk before exiting with nobody out in the fourth.
Strahm allowed one unearned run in five innings last week against the Angels.
"Just mistakes. I've just got to do better with more quality pitches," he said. "Just making quality two-strike pitches was my nemesis today."
Sale dominated a Royals lineup that had slugged its way to eight wins in nine games, striking out the side in the fifth for good measure. The long, lean lefty was finally lifted after Bonifacio's homer and a base hit by Brandon Moss.
The dominant performance came after Sale twirled a complete game in his last start at Kansas City, allowing two earned runs while striking out 10 in a 7-4 victory last Sept. 16 for the White Sox.
"He locates all his pitches, throws hard and has great stuff," Moustakas said. "You just try to put the ball in play, try not to get to two strikes. I was able to do that in that first at-bat."
Royals: LHP Danny Duffy (right oblique) threw about 40 pitches off the mound to hitters before the game and reported no problems. He plans to throw a side session Friday and could begin a rehab assignment next week. "Felt great, looked great," manager Ned Yost said.
Royals: RHP Ian Kennedy will be coming off his first win since Sept. 11 when he starts for Kansas City. Kennedy retired the first 17 hitters he faced in a 3-1 victory over the Angels.