By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — The Red Sox aren’t quite in the dog days of summer. It’s still mid-June, and it’s technically still spring, so there’s clearly quite a long way to go this season.

Still, a player could be forgiven for perhaps not being fully engaged in playoff mode at all times right now. That mentality perhaps appeared to have been creeping in over the past weekend, when the Red Sox dropped two of three to the White Sox, scoring just two total runs in their two losses.

And if ever there were a day where you might expect some players to be going through the motions, one might pinpoint a mid-afternoon weekday game against a dreadful Orioles team in a series which the Red Sox had already won. Surely, most players would have a difficult time manufacturing the adrenaline rush that accompanies games with some actual juice.

But Chris Sale is not most players.

The lanky left-hander was likely a bit ticked off even before he took the mound Wednesday afternoon in Baltimore. He had likely been ticked off for the better part of the previous three weeks, as Sale had uncharacteristically taken three consecutive losses. He pitched well against his old team in his last time out, allowing one run in eight innings against the White Sox, but still took the loss.

So you can bet that when he got the ball in Baltimore, the only thing on his mind was winning the game.

In that regard, he did what he had to do. Through six innings, he had struck out nine Orioles and allowed just five base runners off two singles, a hit batsman and two walks. Against a terrible Orioles team, he was doing what was needed to help his team earn the series sweep.

But his day ended poorly. He walked Mark Trumbo on five pitches to start the bottom of the seventh, and he then lost an eight-pitch battle and walked Craig Gentry. Manager Alex Cora walked to the mound to end Sale’s day.

At that point in the day, Sale had not exactly been feeling positive vibes with home plate umpire Brian Knight. That likely had to do with at least one pitch which was the most obvious strike in the history of strikes, a pitch which Knight called a ball. You can see it here:

The calls on the walks to Trumbo and Gentry weren’t wrong, but Sale nevertheless offered some parting words to his friend behind the plate. To thank him for the kindness, Knight ejected Sale from the game, even though Sale was no longer in the game.

A lesser man would have just walked to the clubhouse, perplexed at the futility of it all. But Sale, after a moment of silent reflection, realized just how lily-livered that move from Knight was.

So Sale popped his head back out of the dugout and got his money’s worth. He was hooting. He was hollering. He was mad as heck and he was not going to take it anymore.

It was great.

“I like competing, and I feel like getting something taken away from me, I get pretty emotional,” Sale said after the win. “Stuff happens, man. I mean, I’m not big on apologies, going back on the things I’ve done. It happened, you know? It is what it is. We’ll move forward.”

Sure, some people will argue that such an outburst might cost Sale on some close calls in the future. It certainly won’t make Knight think very highly of him. And it might bring about a fine from MLB for Sale.

But worrying about that stuff is to overlook the fact that a big-time ace was so fired up on a Wednesday afternoon getaway day game against a last-place team in front of an apparent crowd of about 500 fans that he was willing to ignore any potential repercussions. He showed that he cared.

Maybe it’s a statement on our lessened expectations in 2018, but that alone is impressive. And, if given the choice between having a frontline starter vent his frustrations on a home-plate umpire or a team broadcaster, the choice is obviously the former. It causes much fewer issues.

So, Sale’s outburst on Wednesday afternoon probably should not become a habit. But the season is long. It can drag on … and on and on and on. Some games can feel quite meaningless. Sale’s surge of emotion on an otherwise forgettable day in Baltimore should only be seen as a positive occurrence, both for him and the state of the 2018 Red Sox.

You can email Michael Hurley or find him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.

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