KANSAS CITY -- Chris Sale's latest gem, which fell two outs shy of a second consecutive complete game, put the Red Sox in sole possession of first place in the American League East for the first time this season.
Behind Sale, the Sox thumped the Royals, 8-3, on Tuesday night at Kauffman Stadium. The lanky lefty (9-3, 2.85 ERA) allowed four hits and three runs while walking one and striking out 10.
For Sale, the only sour part of the evening was when he allowed three straight batters to reach with one out in the ninth, which forced manager John Farrell to come get him. Sale flinched his head in anger because he wasn't able to finish the game for his team.
"I don't want to tell John I can do something that I can't get done," said Sale. "I'll never settle. When you start settling, you get complacent. When you get complacent, you [stink]. That's not my style. You get over it, obviously, because we're still winning the game. Once that last out's recorded, we're all smiles."
After weathering their share of injuries early in the season, the Red Sox feel a measure of satisfaction from the way they've played, going 19-10 since May 21.
"I don't think you can say anything negative about us right now," said Sale. "We're scoring runs, our [starting] pitching is good, our bullpen's been lights-out, so I don't know where we are right now, but I think we're in a pretty good spot."
Sale, who has won five of his past six starts, retired 19 straight at one point before tiring in the ninth. It was Sale's 10th game of 10 strikeouts or more this season, putting him one behind Pedro Martinez for most in Red Sox history before the All-Star break.
"He's invaluable," said Farrell. "The way he's pitched, the number of innings he's pitched and the quality of the innings that he has contributed."
Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas gave the Royals a 1-0 lead off Sale in the second inning with his 19th home run this season, and the 100th of his career. Statcast™ projected it went 440 feet, making it Moustakas' longest this season, and the longest off Sale this season.
"I wish it would have come in a win, but it's definitely cool to hit 100 homers in the Majors.," said Moustakas said. "That's pretty special. That's a great pitcher on the mound. Once he settled in, he was really tough. We've seen him enough to know how good he is."
Rookie Jorge Bonifacio hit a two-run home run, his 10th, off Sale in the ninth.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Game, set, match: The Red Sox were leading, 2-1, in the fourth against Royals starter Matt Strahm when Leon came up with two on and none out. Leon drove a double to right-center, scoring Sam Travis and Josh Rutledge, giving the Red Sox a commanding 4-1 lead and ending Strahm's night. Strahm, making his second career start, went three-plus innings, giving up seven hits and five runs.
"They were hitting mistakes," Strahm said. "I have to be better with quality pitches. I kind of crapped out there in the fourth. Making good two-strike pitches was my nemesis tonight."
Moustakas added, "It was just his second start. It was a learning experience for him. Next time out, we have confidence he'll pitch a great game."
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Shortstop Alcides Escobar's third-inning single marked his 1,000th hit with the Royals. He had 159 with Milwaukee previously.
When reliever Travis Wood hit in the ninth, he became the first Royals pitcher to bat in a game at Kauffman Stadium since Hipolito Pichardo in 1995.
Sale now has 45 career double-digit strikeout games, third-most among active pitchers. Only Max Scherzer (57) and Clayton Kershaw (55) have more.
WHAT'S NEXT Red Sox: Left-hander Drew Pomeranz will take the ball in Wednesday afternoon's 2:15 p.m. ET finale of this three-game series. Pomeranz pitched well in a no-decision his last time out, holding the Astros to four hits and a run over 6 1/3 innings.
Royals: Right-hander Ian Kennedy (1-6, 5.03 ERA) takes the mound for the Royals in the series finale with the Red Sox on Wednesday at 1:15 p.m. CT. Kennedy retired the first 17 batters he faced Friday against the Angels and earned his first win since last September while working six innings on one-run ball.