He arrived on the last player bus to Wrigley, walked into the cramped visiting clubhouse, scanned the room and smiled. He hugged teammates Dioner Navarro and Matt Albers, then did a lap around the clubhouse, greeting each player sitting at his locker.
"Good to see you, pal," said third baseman Todd Frazier.
Sale wasn't allowed around his teammates during his five-day suspension following his jersey-tearing incident last weekend. Instead, he stayed home to prepare for Thursday's start -- or perhaps fine-tune his nascent tailoring skills.
In absentia, Sale's presence nevertheless loomed large on Wednesday in the Sox clubhouse, where his teammates were asked by the marauding media horde how the pitcher would be received upon his return.
"In [the clubhouse] with open arms," outfielder Adam Eaton said. "When he pitches, he puts on a good show. I'm sure it won't be any different when he comes back."
Said Navarro: "It's weird, it's a crazy situation, but I think if somebody can handle it, it's him."
You've probably heard the story by now and read more than a few "Scissorshands" cracks on your favorite social media outlet. Last Saturday, the White Sox planned to use throwback jerseys, but Sale was unhappy with the decision. So he proceeded to methodically cut up those jerseys. He said his beef was a competitive issue; the uniforms were uncomfortable and didn't allow him to pitch at his best.
During an interview on MLB.com, Sale said he regretted not being there for his teammates during the suspension, but not so much for the act itself.
"Do I regret standing up for what I believe in? Absolutely not," he said. "Do I regret saying business should not be first before winning? Absolutely not."
As tales of the incident spread like a surreal wildfire through the league, Sale was scratched from his scheduled start and suspended the next day. The immediate consequence was that, at the last minute, six White Sox relievers had to step in to soak up Sale's innings. They collectively held down the Detroit Tigers and set up Eaton's walk-off hit to win that game.
Then the White Sox reeled off three more W's, the first two in similar walk-off fashion, and took the first two of four games against the Cubs. A late-game collapse Wednesday brought the Sale-less spree to a halt. Still, rather than Throwbackgate destroying clubhouse unity, the entire sequence seems to have drawn the White Sox closer.
"That kind of stuff can ruin a team," Frazier said. "It can be even littler -- I've seen littler stuff put a team in the hole. I just think the guys are determined to play the game right.
"I think when we found out the bullpen was going to have to go, they kind of took it upon themselves to step up. That's all you can ask for as a player. We're professionals; you've got to be ready for change."
When Sale takes the mound Thursday, he'll be pitching for a chance to give the White Sox a resounding win in the four-game, two-ballpark series, which would get the Sox back to .500.
"Maybe it's the calm before the storm, maybe it's not," Frazier said. "We'll see. I'm just happy we're on the roll we're getting here. You can see it a little bit. You can see it in everybody's faces. It's a little more chipper, I guess you can say.
"We're ready to go. I think we're going to get on a great, big roll here. I think it's going to be an exciting time for the White Sox."
If it seems as if we've seen this scenario play out before, that's because it has. After first baseman Adam LaRoche retired late in spring training upon being told he could no longer bring his son into the clubhouse, Sale accused White Sox executive Kenny Williams of lying to the team, saying, "Somebody walked out of those doors the other day, and it was the wrong guy."
With that controversy still lingering, the White Sox raced to a 23-10 start, and they hope this current post-controversy upturn can stretch as long as that start did.
"Seems like every time we have a little bit of a stir, things go right," Eaton said. "Beginning of the season went really well for us. This little stir, it's been a positive thing. When [Sale] comes back, I'm sure he won't miss any step in his hop. I'm sure he'll be just fine."
After attributing the White Sox's resilience to the presence of a few well-placed veterans on the roster, manager Robin Ventura said he's not expecting any resentment toward Sale from his teammates.
"Players always have their teammates' back," Ventura said. "It's no different in our clubhouse. I think it's going to be fairly normal. He's going to be prepared to pitch. Our guys are going to be prepared to play."
Sale has finished in the top six in American League Cy Young voting in each of the past four seasons, and he is a leading contender for the award this season. Since the beginning of the 2012 season, Sale ranks third among all pitchers in strikeouts, and seventh in both wins and ERA.
"Here is what I know about Chris: Chris is a good kid, who has a good heart, who does a lot of things nobody sees," said pitching coach Don Cooper. "Certainly on top of all of it, he's a quality pitcher, a high-level pitcher.
"Robin [Ventura] said he was one of the best in the league (but) I'll take it a step further. I think he's in the top 10 on the face of the Earth."
Despite what appeared to be an act of utter petulance, Sale seems to remain high in the esteem of his teammates. He's the ace, and that title extends all the way from the mound to the clubhouse, and beyond.
"He's our teammate," Eaton said. "He's our guy. (Despite) all the things that are swirling around about his character and who he is as a player, he's my brother. I enjoy every second with him on the field and off the field.
"He can't be a better person. With that, I'll be excited to see him. I'm sure he'll be in the same form he has been the entire year. He'll go out there and produce, and be Chris Sale."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.