As Chris Sale walked off the mound at Hadlock Field Tuesday night, he acknowledged an ovation from the first crowd of any substance to see him pitch since he underwent ligament-replacement surgery in his left elbow 16 months ago.

The rehabbing Red Sox lefty doffed his cap and patted his chest before ducking into the home dugout.

“Before the game, the weather was a little sketchy,” said Sale, referring to a mid-afternoon thunderstorm. “I don’t know if any of these fans have seen me play before or have ever come across me … but the way they made me feel going out there and coming off the mound was awesome. I definitely appreciated that.”

A crowd of 7,368 – the first sellout at Hadlock not involving social distancing since September of 2019 – saw Sale toss nearly four hitless innings Tuesday night before the Sea Dogs rallied to a 6-3 victory over the Harrisburg Senators.  It extended Portland’s winning streak to a club-record 14 games, the longest active streak in the minor leagues.

That fact was not lost on Sale, whose previous rehab start had come Thursday in a low-minors game in Florida, where he threw 39 pitches in three shutout innings.

“I definitely was aware of the pressure (Tuesday),” he said. “These boys are on a 13-game winner. So I was definitely not going to be the one to come in here and mess that up.”

Gage Canning was the only Senator to reach base against Sale, who departed with two outs in the top of the fourth inning. Canning walked in his first at-bat and later reached on a slow chopper ruled an error when second baseman Grant Williams double-clutched before throwing too late to catch Canning at first.

Against the other Senators, Sale struck out six, induced two infield ground-outs and two flies to the outfield. He even picked off Canning to end the top of the first.

“I was probably the most shocked person in this ballpark,” said Sale, who later received a text message from his agent that read, “You have the worst pickoff move in the American League. How did that happen?”

Sale credited Sea Dogs catcher Ronaldo Hernandez for signaling the pitcher to throw to first, having a good idea that Canning would be running on Sale’s next pitch. In all, Sale threw 49 pitches, 34 for strikes. His fastball topped out at 97 mph and his slider bottomed out at 77. He also mixed in several change-ups and described his outing as “a step in the right direction.”

“I felt good throughout the entire game,” Sale said outside the home clubhouse, beneath the Portland bullpen. “Even in the third and fourth inning, running back out there, it felt like I was able to create some arm speed and make pitches when I need to, which at this stage of the game is key.”

Sale said he would remain in Portland and work out at Hadlock Wednesday. If he remains on schedule, his next rehab start would be Sunday, likely with the Sea Dogs, but still to be determined.

“It’s a possibility that he could,” Sea Dogs Manager Corey Wimberly said, “but that has not been confirmed.”

Rio Gomez replaced Sale to finish the fourth. Andrew Politi kept the game scoreless until the sixth, when Aldrem Corredor belted a two-run homer for Harrisburg. The Sea Dogs responded with five runs in their half, sparked by Devlin Granberg’s two-run double, and continued with consecutive two-out singles from Hernandez, Ryan Fitzgerald, Tanner Nishioka and Williams to make it 5-2.

Doubles by Tyreque Reed and Fitzgerald in the eighth added an insurance run. After a Jackson Cluff home run, Tyler Olson retired the last two batters to earn his first save.

As for Sale, “I don’t even know what’s next for me. I’m going to show up here (Wednesday), get my work in and see where that takes me.”

 

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