Red Sox

‘Today felt normal’: 7 takeaways as Chris Sale makes rehab start for Worcester Red Sox

"It’s a grind. It’s not easy, but I like it. I love it. I live for it."

Chris Sale rehab
Red Sox pitcher Chris Sale made a rehab start at Polar Park in Worcester on Saturday. Christiana Botic for The Boston Globe

WORCESTER — Red Sox ace Chris Sale took another step toward a major-league return on Saturday, throwing five innings in a rehab start with the Triple-A Worcester Red Sox.

Sale, who underwent Tommy John surgery in March 2020, had a solid outing in his fourth Minor League start — 81 pitches (51 strikes), one run, seven strikeouts and a walk — and he earned the win in a 4-2 victory over the Buffalo Bisons.

Here are seven takeaways.

1. Perhaps the most important note from Saturday’s start: Sale said he feels normal again. He doesn’t feel like he’s rehabbing, and he isn’t trying to work on specific pitches. Rather, he’s trying to compete with batters within the flow of the game.

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“I finally put in my first real day of work in two years,” a cheerful Sale said after leaving the game. “It felt good. Today felt normal. I was out there competing like I always do, throwing all my pitches and competing again. It’s different knowing I’m only going to go two innings today or three innings today. Today was like, ‘Hey, you have to carry some load and you have to figure out how to navigate this game.'”

Sale struck out the side in the third inning, but he labored in the fourth when he allowed his only run on a pair of doubles.

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He didn’t mind the additional work, however.

“The things that I’m battling now are the things I was kind of fighting against myself healthy,” Sale said. “Now that I’m healthy again, it feels good. The feeling I have, I enjoy that. It’s a grind. It’s not easy, but I like it. I love it. I live for it.”

Importantly, Sale felt great after the game.

“I still feel kind of loose, whippy,” Sale said. “We’ll see what tomorrow brings, but so far so good today.”

2. The headlines from Saturday’s game will revolve around Sale, but the play of the game was outfielder Tate Matheny‘s ridiculous leaping catch at the wall in the fourth to rob Bisons infielder Kevin Smith of a homer.

Sale grimaced visibly when Smith made contact, then threw his longs arms out in celebration following Matheny’s catch. Matheny followed his heroics with a two-run homer in the bottom of the frame.

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“That was big,” Sale said, when asked about Matheny’s catch. “That was huge. Leading off an inning too, I know ended up still giving up a run, but things could have gotten much more out of hand.”

3. Sale was asked if Thursday’s contest against Scranton will be his final rehab start — a reasonable interpretation of tea leaves left behind by Red Sox manager Alex Cora.

“They don’t give me information like that,” Sale said. “I’m appreciative of today. I was appreciative of yesterday and the day before that. And when tomorrow comes, I’ll appreciate that too.”

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As unlikely as it seems that the team has not given Sale a timeline, he might not be in any hurry to fly through his Minor League work. Sale said he is “having a blast” riding the bus and buying local dinners for teammates.

Sale’s go-to food in Worcester? A small restaurant called Shawarma Palace downtown, which he has visited multiple times. Restaurant owner Charles Dalli was outside Polar Park, and he hung around after Sale’s press conference to ask if Sale said anything about his establishment. He beamed when informed Sale had given him a glowing shoutout.

“I’ll be honest, when I got the first call, I didn’t believe it,” Dalli told Boston.com. “It was an honor, I’ll be honest, to serve him.”

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5. The Red Sox had a relatively quiet trade deadline while the rest of the league exploded, and fans are looking to Sale as the team’s big addition. Sale knows the team needs him to be ready right away — there won’t be much time to ease into things before the playoffs.

“I’m ramping up like it’s spring training, but I’m not starting Day 1 of the season,” Sale said. “We’re in the middle of something special right now. We’re at the top of the pack right now. I don’t have time to go out there and do this or that, I’ve got to pitch and I’ve got to pitch good.”

Sale said he liked that the Red Sox were quiet at the deadline.

“I don’t think we needed anything big,” Sale said. “When you’re out in front, you’re doing something right already. I like the guys we had in our clubhouse, obviously the additions are going to help, and we roll from there.”

6. Polar Park in Worcester had a record-setting attendance, which officially reached 9,508 but looked like more. Fans crowded the left-field berm and filled the stadium.

“This is f—ing nuts,” one stadium employee said.

7. Sale did his post-game availability in a cut-off T-shirt that featured Daddy Long Neck, a viral social media star who has Marfan Syndrome — a genetic disorder that results in a skinny frame, long arms and long legs.

“He might be the only person in the country who can make me feel jacked,” Sale joked.

Sale’s next start will likely take place on Thursday at 7 p.m.

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