The Red Sox waited two years for Chris Sale to return, so what was one more day?
When the skinny left-hander last appeared on a mound, something clearly looked wrong. It was Aug. 13, 2019, and Sale fought his way through 108 pitches and into the seventh inning vs. the Indians. He uncharacteristically allowed a pair of home runs, and Francisco Lindor chased him with a two-run double.
Sale struck out 12, including the 2,000th of his career. Looking back now, Red Sox manager Alex Cora can see the signs.
"I know from my end that start, the 13th, was a grind," Cora said on Friday. "He didn't want to admit it -- probably he doesn't want to admit it yet -- but I do believe he went out there feeling something, because it was his heart and his guts against the Cleveland Indians, and he almost pulled it out."
The two-year anniversary of that start was Friday night, and Sale desperately wanted to make his return from Tommy John surgery on that symmetrical date. But the Red Sox had other ideas, holding him back until Saturday afternoon vs. the Orioles.
When Sale makes his long-awaited return, it will be the culmination of a journey back from the edge, from the uncertainty of that first winter to the monotony of his rehab once he finally went under the knife last March.
He's coming back at a time when the Red Sox desperately need a lift. They beat the woeful Orioles on Friday night to stanch the bleeding, but they've lost 7.5 games in the standings to the Rays in just two weeks and are now fighting for their playoff lives.
Into that cauldron steps Sale, the once and future ace whom the Red Sox will be counting on more than they'd like to admit over the final six weeks of the season.
"It should be fun. It should be fun," Cora said. "It's been two years and one day since he has pitched at the big league level. Obviously we want good results. Obviously we want to win games. But this is more about the individual and the fact that his family is going to be here. It's going to be a packed house hopefully. The K man will probably be out there. It should be great. Looking forward for that, and hopefully it will give us that boost that we're looking for."
His teammates can't wait to see him finally reap the reward of his rehab.
"I mean, I'm really, really excited," said right-hander Nick Pivetta. "Chris works his tail off every single day. He's worked really hard these last two years or so. It's going to be really big for him, too. I think he's as excited as we are. We're excited to see him go out and compete, do what he does, do what he loves. I think it's really going to be a lot of fun tomorrow. I know that there's going to be a lot of fans out there cheering for him. I know his family is going to be there. We're all going to be there for him. It's going to be really exciting to see what he's got, and just see him have fun throwing a baseball."
Cora noted that it is effectively April for Sale, which means his pitch count probably won't soar much past 75 or 80. That's OK. After two years on the sidelines, the big lefty is back, right when the Red Sox need him most.
How he throws is far less important than the fact that he's finally once again able to take the ball.
"Of course we want to win, of course we want him to dominate, but it's more than that," Cora said. "It's about this kid putting the work, going out there and performing at the big league level. Then, after that, we can talk about his stuff."