The Boston Red Sox welcomed back their erstwhile ace Friday night as they continued their postseason push. Lefty Chris Sale was activated off the 60-day injured list and started Friday night's series opener against the Detroit Tigers at Fenway Park. He had been sidelined with a shoulder issue since June 1.
"We've been waiting for this day," Red Sox manager Alex Cora told the Boston Globe about Sale's return earlier this week. "He's been around us and he feels good."
He looked good, too.
In fact, Sale was brilliant during his time on the mound. He got through four innings with a perfect game, 12 up, 12 down. He remained perfect through 4 2/3 innings before a solo homer from Kerry Carpenter got the Tigers on the board. Sale hit the next batter before departing and said runner would come around to score, getting him charged with a second run. The final line: 4 2/3 IP, 1 H, 2 ER, 0 BB, 7 K.
The Red Sox only planned to have Sale pitch four innings, but he was so efficient in his four perfect frames to start the game, they decided to let him take the hill for the fifth. He ended up throwing 58 pitches in the game, so he'll be able to work into the 70s next time.
Boston went on to beat the Tigers 5-2.
Prior to his IL stint, Sale, 34, made 11 starts and pitched to a 4.58 ERA with 71 strikeouts in 59 innings. He was at his best immediately prior to the injury, allowing just four runs and 13 baserunners in 20 innings in his final three starts before leaving his June 1 outing with the shoulder issue. Various injuries have limited Sale to just 23 starts since 2020.
Red Sox starters entered play Friday ranked 21st in ERA (4.62) and 24th in WAR (5.5). They have regularly used bullpen games during Sale's absence and will still need to do so even with the former ace's return. Brayan Bello, Kutter Crawford and James Paxton are their only other full-time starters with Nick Pivetta bouncing between the rotation and bullpen.
Sale struck out 10 and threw 6 1/3 scoreless innings in two Triple-A rehab starts prior to being activated Friday. He is in the fourth year of a five-year, $145 million contract. Lefty Brandon Walter was sent down to clear a roster spot for Sale.
Despite a patchwork rotation, the Red Sox were 60-55 and only four games out of a wild-card spot entering Friday. They have had a very streaky season -- Boston is 4-8 in its last 12 games and that comes immediately after a 16-5 stretch.