PORTLAND, Maine — The Double A Sea Dogs faithful brought it for Chris Sale and the Red Sox ace delivered.
Sale dazzled a sellout crowd of 7,368 to the tune of 3⅔ hitless innings as the lefthander continued his comeback from March 2020 Tommy John surgery on a sunny and humid evening.
“This has obviously been a long road,” Sale said. “This is definitely the most fun part for me . . . I like getting after it. The more repetitions I can get at high leverage, the more I can be better from it.”
Sale, who last appeared in a regular season MLB contest Aug. 13, 2019, was the first of four Sea Dogs pitchers who contributed to the 6-3 decision over Harrisburg, Portland’s 14th straight victory.
“I was definitely not going to be the one to come in here and mess that up,” Sale said.
Sale struck out six Senators, walked one, and threw 34 of his 49 pitches for strikes. Sale didn’t specify how many more rehabilitation starts he’d need before a return to the big leagues.
“I don’t know what’s next for me,” Sale said. “I’m going to show up tomorrow, get my work in, and see what’s next.”
Trading his Boston No. 41 jersey for Portland’s No. 3, Sale began his outing with a 96-mile-per-hour fastball for a strike, and worked around a first-inning walk to retire the side on 16 pitches. In the second inning, Sale sandwiched two strikeouts around a fly out, retiring the side in order on 10 pitches. He used 15 pitches in the third, retiring the side in order including two strikeouts. Sale recorded two outs on eight pitches in the fourth.
“It was very good, very good pitches,” Sea Dogs catcher Ronaldo Hernández said. “I feel happy because that was my first time catching someone like him.”
Sale, 32, pitched three scoreless innings last week in his first competitive appearance in nearly two years. He tossed 39 pitches and scattered four hits while striking out five in a rehab start for the Red Sox’ Florida Complex League affiliate against the Orioles’ FCL team.
Facing the Washington Nationals affiliate just over 100 miles north of Fenway Park, Sale mixed his fastball, slider, and changeup throughout. Sale touched 98 m.p.h. on his fastball in the first inning and consistently sat around 97, and closer to 95 later in the outing. Sale’s slider sat around 87 miles per hour and the changeup hovered in the high 70s.
“Today was a good day,” Sale said. “Definitely a step in the right direction.”
Harrisburg’s Gage Canning walked in the first inning and reached on an error in the fourth.
“You know he’s got good stuff, so you’re just looking for something good to hit,” Canning said.
The seven-time MLB All-Star stuck around to join his Sea Dogs teammates and treat them to a postgame spread of steak, mashed potatoes, and vegetables.
With the Red Sox game against the Toronto Blue Jays in Buffalo rained out, social media buzz turned to Sale’s start. It lived up to the hype.
Excitement for Sale’s start brewed throughout the weekend. Many online resale tickets were listed at more three-times face value 24 hours before the game, with one pair on the market at $249 each. Dozens of buzzing fans trickled through the gates when they opened 90 minutes before first pitch, and 79-year-old Lorna Pelkey, of Augusta, Maine, was among the first in the park wearing her Sale shirt.
“I haven’t been to a Sea Dogs game this year, but this one I had to” she said.