By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — All things considered, the Red Sox have to be satisfied with the start they got from Chris Sale on Friday night.

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No, it wasn’t anything like the work one might expect from an ace who’s on a Hall of Fame track. But Sale hasn’t been that pitcher since returning to the roster in mid-August.

So in Game 1 of the ALCS between the Red Sox and Astros, Sale didn’t go six or seven innings while allowing a run or two and striking out 10 batters. But the 2021 version of Sale pitched about as well as anyone could have reasonably expected.

Though he did get a whole lot of help from his defense, and from the baseball gods.

Sale recorded eight outs for Boston, which was an improvement on his performance in Game 2 of the ALDS, when he lasted just one inning. Sale gave up just one run, which was scored on a sacrifice fly in the first inning, after Jose Altuve had made it to third on a walk of his own, a single by Alex Bregman, and a wild pitch by Sale.

Sale did allow five hits and a walk, for a grisly WHIP of 2.250. But after he was pulled with two on and two outs in the third inning, Adam Ottavino got Yuli Gurriel to ground out softly to second base to end the inning and the threat, preserving a 3-1 lead for the visiting Red Sox.

That was … OK. Had it not been for a conveniently placed line drive from Michael Brantley that flew directly at center fielder Kiké Hernandez in the first inning, and had it not been for a spectacular catch by Hernandez to end a bases-loaded threat in the bottom of the second inning, it could have been much worse.

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But couldas and shouldas don’t count in October. And the Red Sox got what they likely wanted and needed out of Sale.

Sale was a bit of a surprise choice to be named the Game 1 starter on Thursday, after he allowed five runs in his one inning of work in Game 2 of the ALDS, serving up a first-inning grand slam and getting replaced by Tanner Houck to start the second inning. That start came after Sale fizzled at the end of the year, posting a 4.97 ERA against the Mets, Orioles and Nationals, including a 2.1-inning dud in the must-win season finale when he allowed seven base runners and two earned runs.

Sale has also struggled historically in the postseason. He entered Friday night’s game with a 1-2 record and a 7.27 ERA in eight postseason appearances (five starts), with a 1.463 WHIP and a 3.80 strikeout-to-walk ratio. That’s all a far cry from his career regular-season ERA of 3.03, WHIP of 1.042, and strikeout-to-walk ratio of 5.33 — the best such mark of all time.

The regular-season pedigree was obviously there, but Sale’s recent results and postseason history made it a shaky call to start the left-hander for Game 1 on the road. (Sale, who made his return from Tommy John surgery after missing a season and a half, posted a 2.48 ERA at Fenway Park and a 4.61 on the road in the regular season this year.)

Nevertheless, Alex Cora and the organization had faith.

“We feel comfortable with Chris with the rest that he got. And obviously giving Nate [Eovaldi] one more day is going to benefit. The off day, the structure of the bullpen tomorrow, so we should be okay,” Cora said on Thursday. “It’s Chris Sale. At one point he had to pitch in this series, and we’re very comfortable with him going [Friday]. I think the structure of the series and the structure of our bullpen tomorrow is going to be — we’re going to be aggressive regardless. I don’t expect him to come out in the first inning. I expect him to go out there and pitch a good game and give us a chance to win. You got to trust everybody in this roster. We got 26 guys that they have to do a job for us to advance to the World Series, and he is one of them. And that’s the reason he is pitching tomorrow, and then Nate will follow him.”

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Ottavino got through 1.1 innings after entering for Sale, securing the 3-1 lead into the fifth inning. But Tanner Houck gave up the game-tying homer to Altuve, Hansel Robles gave up a go-ahead home run to Carlos Correa, and the Red Sox lost the game, 5-4.