PORTLAND, Maine — Chris Sale has faced challenges during his comeback from March 2020 Tommy John surgery, but none have been more public than the third inning of his rehab start with the Double A Portland Sea Dogs on Sunday afternoon.
And, as Sale does, the Red Sox ace rose to the occasion.
After striking out five of the first six Harrisburg Senators he faced, Sale allowed a home run, a double, and a single. He followed with two strikeouts, hit a batter to load the bases, then induced another punch out to escape the inning.
“Obviously no pitcher wants to give up home runs, hits, and stuff like that, but it’s good to have that before I get back to the big leagues,” Sale said. “Having to pitch out of stuff . . . That’s the time when your back’s against the wall and you have to make some pitches.”
Sale pitched 3⅔ innings, allowed six hits, two earned runs, hit one batter, and struck out nine in his third rehabilitation before a sold-out crowd of 7,368 at Hadlock Field. He tossed 46 of his 64 pitches for strikes on a mostly cloudy, 66-degree afternoon. The Sea Dogs ended up winning 6-5 in 10 innings, the team’s third straight day with a walkoff.
Sale faced live batters in a game situation for the first time last week, throwing 39 pitches in a contest with the Red Sox Florida Complex League affiliate. The 32-year-old Sale dazzled a capacity crowd Tuesday night in Portland, notching 3⅔ hitless, scoreless innings, striking out six, and walking one.
“He tried again to compete on the mound,” said Sea Dogs catcher Ronaldo Hernández, who also caught Sale on Tuesday. “He’s a very, very good guy, too, and tries working together with everyone.”
Sale thoroughly enjoyed his time in Portland. He opted not to join the Red Sox during the second half of the week. Instead, the seven-time MLB All-Star again remained in Portland. Sale bought the Sea Dogs a spread of pizza from Flatbread Company on Sunday.
“They’ve made me feel welcome, and I appreciate that,” Sale said. “I’ve been talking a lot with these guys, bouncing ideas off pitching stuff.”
Sale topped out at 96 miles per hour on his fastball, sitting in the mid 90s. He also mixed in a mid-80s changeup and a slider sitting at around 80 m.p.h. throughout the outing.
Harrisburg’s Osvaldo Duarte led off the third with a home run off a changeup, traveling an estimated 442 feet to left-center field. Sale then yielded a double and a single, but followed with two strikeouts. He hit the next batter to load the bases but escaped the inning with a swinging strikeout.
Sale needed 28 pitches in the third, one more than the first two innings combined. Sale got two outs in the third before allowing a hit and being lifted.
Harrisburg’s Rhett Wiseman, a Boston native, went 1 for 2 against Sale with a single and strikeout and 3 for 5 with two RBIs overall. The 2012 Massachusetts Gatorade State Baseball Player of the Year at Buckingham Browne & Nichols and Globe All-Scholastic appreciated the opportunity to face Sale.
“I thought he looked really good,” Wiseman said. “Any time you face a guy that’s a Major League ace, you’ve got to ramp it up a bit.”
Sale is likely to make at least one more rehab start, Red Sox manager Alex Cora said recently. Cora announced after the Red Sox game Sunday that Sale would start July 31 in Worcester. The goal is for Sale to build to approximately 80 pitches, or between five and six innings before rejoining the Red Sox rotation.
A rainy morning appeared to threaten Sale’s start, but the weather cooperated enough for a 1:45 p.m. first pitch, a 45-minute delay. When Sale emerged from the clubhouse entrance in right field, brothers Steve and Garry Libby took notice. The former, of Belgrade, Maine, took the latter, of Winslow, Maine, and family to the game for a Hammond Lumber Company “Family Day” outing.
For the lifelong Red Sox fans, it couldn’t have come on a better day, even with the delay.
“It’s so exciting, and I’m happy to see him come back,” Garry Libby said. “Just for it to happen today is the icing on the cake.”