Chris Sale comes home as Red Sox face streaking Rays

National Sports

Boston Red Sox pitcher Chris Sale is returning home to pitch for the first time in more than two years and bringing a little bit of perfection along with him.

Sale will take the mound Wednesday for his fourth start since Tommy John surgery last year as the Red Sox square off against the Tampa Bay Rays in the third game of a four-game series in St. Petersburg, Fla.

After losing the first two games against the Rays, the Red Sox could surely use a boost from the lean 32-year-old left-hander. Boston has dropped three straight while Tampa Bay is riding a nine-game winning streak.

A native of nearby Lakeland, Fla., Sale had a stellar career at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers before being selected in the first round (13th overall) by the Chicago White Sox in the 2010 draft.

His last start in the Rays’ domed stadium by the bay was on July 23, 2019, when Sale earned the win with six strong innings and 10 strikeouts in Boston’s 5-4 victory.

In 2020, he struggled with his health early in spring training before the team announced on March 30 that he had undergone surgery on his left elbow after the season had been delayed due to coronavirus.

Sale (3-0, 2.35 ERA) appears to be back on track following his Aug. 14 return.

He has recorded wins over the Baltimore Orioles, Texas Rangers and Minnesota Twins in his three starts. He added his third career “immaculate inning” Thursday when he fanned the Twins’ Nick Gordon, Andrelton Simmons and Rob Refsnyder on nine pitches.

Sale joined Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax — a fellow southpaw — as the only pitchers to have done it three times.

In 20 career appearances (18 starts) against the Rays, the seven-time All-Star is 10-6 with a 2.94 ERA, yielding a .180 average to the opposition.

He will hope to give a boost to a Red Sox team that is in the midst of a COVID-19 crisis. Reliever Hirokazu Sawamura and shortstop Xander Bogaerts tested positive for COVID-19 on Tuesday, with Bogaerts getting pulled off the field midgame when his test result was learned.

Josh Taylor is in quarantine due to close contact, bringing the team’s total to seven players with virus-related issues.

“It feels like it is one every day, right?” manager Alex Cora said, concerned that there could be more. “This is where our reality is. Hopefully, this is the end of it, but there’s no guarantees.”

The Rays, meanwhile, are feeling positive vibes after closing August with a 21-6 mark. Tampa Bay managed just five hits Tuesday in beating Boston for the ninth time in the past 10 meetings, riding a six-run third inning to an 8-5 victory.

“We took advantage of good at-bats and timely hitting,” said Rays manager Kevin Cash, whose club leads the majors in runs per game at 5.38. “But sometimes you have to win like that … wait them out, and that timely hit came for us.”

Reliever-turned-starter Drew Rasmussen (1-1, 3.46 ERA) is set to make the start Wednesday. He appeared to have found his niche with the Rays, sliding into the rotation and pitching deeper into games as his pitch-count increases.

Rasmussen, 26, has been used as a starter his last three times out, going at least four innings in each game.

The right-hander has no record and a 2.70 ERA in three career outings (one start) against Boston, all this season.

–Field Level Media

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