By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — Chris Sale is back. Unfortunately, he can’t seem to get a win for his efforts.

Sale was magnificent Tuesday night at Fenway Park, dominating the Colorado Rockies to the tune of two runs over seven innings. He was perfect through the game’s first 12 batters, and walked off the mound with a career-high 17 punchouts. Boston’s lefty became the first pitcher in MLB history to strike out 17 or more in a start that lasted seven innings or fewer.

Even when Nolan Arenado took him deep for a two-run homer in the seventh inning, pulling the Rockies to within 3-2 at the time, Sale buckled down and ended up striking out the side. He was done after 108 pitches, allowing just three hits and issuing no walks in his best outing of the season.

Nine of his 17 strikeouts ended with a swing and a miss, five of which were on Sale’s devastating slider. And boy was that slider devastating on Tuesday.

Of Sale’s 108 pitches, 74 of them went for strikes.

“Yeah, fastball command and my slider was probably about as good as it’s ever been,” said Sale.

“That was fun to watch,” said manager Alex Cora. “The first time [I’ve] been in something like that, you know? Watching the strikeouts and watching the pitch count. You want him to go as deep as possible. In the tunnel he goes, ‘You’re not going to let me get 20?’ Sarcastic, but probably serious. Great performance. Fastballs, changeups, sliders. In and out. Up. That was pretty cool to watch.”

Sale would have loved to have gone out for the eighth inning with a shot at 20 strikeouts. But his high pitch count led to Cora calling upon his bullpen, and they couldn’t hang on to Boston’s slim lead. Even after Brandon Workman gave up a two-run homer in the top of the eighth, Sale wasn’t going to second-guess his skipper.

“I respect him as much as anybody on the planet and I’ll never question anything he does, even in regard to that,” said Sale.

The Red Sox ended up losing 5-4 in 11 innings, wasting Sale’s superb effort. He is the first Boston pitcher to strike out 17 batters since Pedro Martinez accomplished the feat back in 2000, also in a Boston loss.

“It sucks, honestly,” Cora said after the defeat.

Boston’s ace sits at just 1-5 on the season, but he’s made considerable improvements over his last three starts. He appears to be back to his dominant self, fanning 41 of the 76 batters that he’s faced over that span. He’s allowed just three earned runs over his last 21 innings, lowering his ERA from 6.30 to 4.24 in the process.

It’s finally safe to say that Chris Sale is back to being Chris Sale.

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