By CBSBoston.com Staff

BOSTON (CBS) — In his first outing on a Major League mound in over two years, Chris Sale looked a lot like the Chris Sale of old. The Red Sox ace struck out eight Orioles over five solid innings, earning the win in Boston’s 16-2 victory.

It had been 732 days since Sale last took the mound for the Boston Red Sox heading into Saturday’s start, after he underwent Tommy John on his left elbow in March 2020. He had family and friends on hand to make the day all the more special, and ended up tossing five innings of two-run ball in his return.

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“Good to get back out on a big league mound again doing what I’m supposed to do with my teammates,” Sale said after his outing “Having my family and friends here, I’m just really appreciative. … I know that I’ve put in a lot of work and a lot of people around me have put in a lot of work for me to be able to go do what I did tonight.”

“He was amazing. He was great,” Boston manager Alex Cora said after the win. “Today was a special day for this organization.”

Sale said his effort was good enough, and that he’s never satisfied with himself. But he looked pretty darn good, throwing a little bit of everything from his arsenal on Saturday. He stymied Baltimore batters with his usual devastating slider and a fastball in the mid 90s, throwing 60 of his 89 pitches for strikes while inducing 16 swing and misses.

Trey Mancini, hitting in the two-hole for the Orioles, was his first strikeout victim of the day, as Sale got him flailing at a slider that dropped outside the strike zone.

After Pedro Serevino reached on an infield single to third, Sale punched out Anthony Santander on a 96 MPH fastball to end the top of the first inning.

The Red Sox spotted him a 4-0 lead in the bottom of the first, and Sale got Ryan McKenna looking to start the top of the second. He retired the next two batters on groundouts for his only 1-2-3 inning on the day.

Boston added two more runs in the bottom of the second to give Sale a 6-0 lead, but he was tagged for back-to-back solo homers by Austin Hays and Mancini in the top of the third. Sale punched out Serevino to end the frame for his second K of the inning and his fifth of the game.

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Sale struck out two more batters in the top of the fourth, with Santander swinging and missing at a changeup to start the inning. McKenna followed with a double and made it to third on a Maikel Franco flyout to right, but was stranded when Jorge Mateo struck out swinging at a fastball to end the inning.

The fifth inning could have been a shaky one for Sale, but he got a huge outfield assist from Hunter Renfroe — the right fielder’s league-leading 14th of the season. Richie Martin started the frame with an infield single and appeared to reach third on a single to right by Austin Wynns, but replay showed that Martin left the base after sliding in. Rafael Devers wisely kept his tag on Martin, who was ruled out after a brief review.

That out at third changed the inning, as instead of runners on the corners and no outs, Sale was working with a runner on first and one out. He got Hays swinging at a slider for the second out of the inning, and his day ended with Mancini grounding out to Xander Bogaerts at short.

Sale walked off the field to a standing ovation from the Fenway Park crowd, leaving with a 7-2 lead. The Red Sox added seven more runs in the bottom of the fifth to turn the game into a laugher. Boston hit five homers on the afternoon, with Rafael Devers, J.D. Martinez and Renfroe each homering once and Bobby Dalbec leaving the yard twice.

But the story was the guy on the mound to start the game. Sale’s final line in his return to the Majors: five innings pitched, six hits, two earned runs, no walks and eight strikeouts. Not bad at all for someone who hadn’t thrown a pitch in the big leagues since 2019, and it should make fans feel much better about the Boston rotation going forward.

Sale addressed the team after the game and thanked everyone for their support over the last two years.

“That was everything to me. These guys have had my back since the jump. My family too. I’m very lucky and very fortunate, and through all of this I’ve realized that. I’ve had some bad days over the last two years, but nothing compared to bad days for other people. I was on top of the world, throwing the last pitch of a World Series, show up to spring training and sign a huge freaking contract and like that (snap), it was gone,” he said. “I’m just so freaking appreciative. My guys sending me text messages, giving me phone calls. My family —  I’m a tough guy to deal with on a good day, and I had a lot of bad days. For my family to stay behind me, I became a better person on the back end of this, I like to think.

“My teammates give me life. This game was taken from me for two years,” he continued. “I had a hole in my chest the last two years and it sucked. For those guys to be there, it was a special moment. … Sitting here right now, I honestly couldn’t be more happy.”

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Sale said that Cora gave him the lineup card from today’s game, and he also has a handful of baseballs from an important milestone in his career. The lefty will next toe the rubber for Boston on Friday night when the Red Sox welcome the Texas Rangers to Fenway Park.

CBSBoston.com Staff