BOSTON -- Six days after an electric performance in Baltimore that included his 300th strikeout of the season, Chris Sale continued his perplexing recent habit of following up a stellar start with a subpar outing.
In Tuesday's 9-4 loss to the Blue Jays at Fenway Park, Sale gave up four homers to match a career high.
Sale's late-season run of inconsistency is hard to dissect because his stuff remains powerful. For example, Sale's four-seamer averaged 96.4 mph and maxed out at 98.8. That doesn't indicate a pitcher who is wearing down late in the season. His slider also looked nasty on several of his eight strikeouts.
"The only pattern is the bottom line," Red Sox manager John Farrell said. "I can't say there's been fluctuation in the power or the shape to his secondary pitch or usage pattern. More than anything, it comes down to command. That was the case three starts ago in Tampa. A little more tonight. Two starts ago in Baltimore, he was as dominant with quality location as he's been all year. The common thread is location, the consistency of it."
Sale (17-8, 2.90 ERA) had hoped to help the Red Sox get closer to winning the American League East. Instead, the Yankees reduced the lead to three with five games left.
"Unfortunately, what I do is amplified because we're here and we're in the thick of it," said Sale, who allowed five runs in five innings. "Just flat-out got to win games. I'm not doing that. I'm as frustrated as anybody on the planet right now about that. You pick your head up, pick your teammates up and show up tomorrow ready to go."
It remains to be seen if Sale will pitch again during the regular season. His next turn in the rotation would be Sunday's regular-season finale against the Astros.
Given that the AL Division Series starts just four days after that -- perhaps against the Astros -- it's hard to imagine the lefty would have anything more than a brief tune-up in Game No. 162 if the Red Sox have already clinched the East by then.
"I think it's probably too early to answer that definitively," Farrell said. "We just have to see how these final five games play out. We know where we stand. We know what's ahead of us. We have to go out and take care of business [Wednesday] with Rick [Porcello] on the mound."
In Sale's last eight starts dating back to Aug. 19, he is 3-4 with a 4.30 ERA. In the three wins, he didn't give up any runs.
"They're all individual cases," Sale said of some of his recent struggles. "I'm still doing what I can out there. Just sometimes, it doesn't work out. You can't have a good day at work every day."
The best-case scenario for the Red Sox is that Sale's recent struggles are related to over-exposure against teams within the division. Tuesday marked the fourth time Sale has faced the Blue Jays this season, and the first time he allowed a run against them.
"I think there is familiarity. When you look at the last dozen starts, we've been pretty exclusively in the American League East," Farrell said. "He's been a guy we've lined up against all divisional opponents. So whether it's five or six starts against New York, four against Toronto, four or five more against Tampa, that's familiarity within a division. When he's had a time gap against an individual team, he's certainly had the upper hand."
In October, Sale will try to regain it.
"A lot of what I do is based off of feeling," Sale said. "I'm not a big fan of looking at my mistakes [on video]. Like I said, just go out there and try to do better."
Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.