'It was amazing': Fans, teammates fuel Sale

In first start in two years, ace lefty dominates O's and is quick to share credit

August 15th, 2021

BOSTON -- first emerged onto the field at Fenway Park roughly 30 minutes before Saturday’s first pitch, and the crowd responded as he ran to the outfield to warm up. Twenty minutes later, he came back in and got another ovation. When he was announced by the public address announcer minutes later, the crowd got even louder.

Then came his first pitch for the Red Sox in two years, and the real fun started. Sale was off and running with a 94.2 mph heater that Austin Hays waved weakly at and fouled off.

For Sale, Saturday’s 16-2 win over Baltimore seemed to mark the start of something good -- the post-Tommy John surgery portion of his career.

• Box score

The lefty went five innings and threw 89 pitches against the Orioles, scattering six hits and allowing two runs while walking none and striking out eight to earn elusive career victory No. 110.

In truth, this day wasn’t about the results.

Instead, it was a day for Sale to savor his return to the competition he loves so much. It was a day for the Red Sox and the city of Boston to relish having him back.

“I don’t know if I felt one step out to the bullpen,” said Sale. “It was amazing. What can I say? These fans, they’ve had my back since the day I got here, and I’m appreciative of that. These guys come and pack the house for us on a nightly basis, and they’re very, very passionate, and a lot of them like how I do my work.

“I care a lot, I’m very passionate when I pitch. I put a lot of effort and work into this, and our fans bring the same energy on the flip side. For them to show out tonight and make me feel that way was really special.”

The Red Sox took the stress off their ace with a four-run barrage in the first and held a 7-2 lead by the fourth.

Then again, the energy created by having Sale back on the mound might have led to such a flying start by the offense.

“It really felt like a playoff game,” said Red Sox left fielder Alex Verdugo, who had four hits. “Everybody saw Chris Sale, and you had all the energy, man, everybody screaming, yelling. Not only that, but just the way you kind of see Chris Sale go about it. When he’s ready to pitch, there’s a little bit of that crazy guy in there, but also, he’s a bulldog. He’s just ready to go. As a position player, playing behind him and with him, it fires you up.”

Looking sharp with all of his pitches, Sale induced 16 swings and misses in his first start for the Red Sox since Aug. 13, 2019.

He threw 46 fastballs, 25 changeups and 18 sliders, giving the Red Sox and their fans a taste of what they’ve been missing.

When Sale finished the fifth by getting Trey Mancini on a grounder to short, the packed house of 33,118 had the collective presence of mind to realize his day was over. It roared with approval.

As Sale walked down the dugout steps, he immediately hugged manager Alex Cora.

“It’s a good feeling,” said Cora. “I haven’t had that feeling in a while. You know, ’19 was a grind for him, since Spring Training, through that season, it was very hard. Now, he’s in a good spot mentally. He’s in a great spot physically. He’s ready to contribute. He wants to be a part of something special. This is what he asked for in the offseason. He just wanted to pitch meaningful innings, and he already gave us five.”

Once the game was over, Sale addressed his teammates and thanked them for their support during his absence.

“That was everything to me. These guys, they’ve had my back since the jump,” said Sale. “My teammates give me life. This thing was taken from me for two straight years, and I realized how much I needed this game and how much I needed my teammates and how they made me feel complete. I had a hole in my chest for the last two years, and it sucked. For those guys to be there, it was a special moment.”

Sale also expressed gratitude to his family, many of whom flew to Boston for Saturday’s special day.

“I had my wife, my boys were here, my parents came up, my father-in-law was here, I had a couple of my buddies from Florida come up and my college coach was here as well,” said Sale. “It was just a special day. I couldn’t be more appreciative. To have my family and my friends, this was just kind of full circle for me. I loved every second of it.”

Sale went out of his way to thank the trainers in Boston and Fort Myers, Fla., for getting him through the grueling rehab that Tommy John surgery entails.

With the pomp and circumstance of his return to action out of the way, Sale will go back in the trenches and gear up for his next start, which will come on Friday night at Fenway against the Rangers.

And for the 68-51 Red Sox, who had slumped mightily before coming out of it the last few days, the final stretch of their season has received a big jolt of energy.

The chase for October is now in full motion.

“It kind of feels like a reset,” said Verdugo. “It feels like we got our guy, we got our bulldog back. Just hearing the way he talks to the team and just brings everybody together, and also the passion he has for this game. It just fires you up. That’s the best thing I can say. As a player with him, he makes you want to play. He makes you want to do even better.”