BOSTON -- Chris Sale's first start after 10 weeks on the injured list had extra meaning for him.
It might mean even more for the Red Sox.
Sale retired Detroit's first 14 batters Friday night, combining with two relievers on a two-hitter to lead the Red Sox past the Tigers 5-2. The win was Boston's third in a row, helping the Red Sox pull within three games of the Toronto Blue Jays in the race for the American League's final wild-card spot.
"Any time you're playing for something, it's obviously much more enjoyable and more intense," said Sale, who struck out seven before leaving to a standing ovation. "This is going to bring a boost to the clubhouse, and hopefully we can hold it down and make a push and start playing some games in October."
Sale took a perfect game into the fifth, striking out Jake Rogers to lead off the inning and then getting Miguel Cabrera on a grounder. But Kerry Carpenter followed with a home run over the Red Sox bullpen, and when Sale hit the next batter, Javier Baez, Boston manager Alex Cora called to the bullpen.
Sale said Cora told him, "Keep your eye on the big picture."
"I know the situation. I know ... one more hitter, or whatever," Sale said. "But I have too much respect for him to show him off, or try to push the envelope."
In all, Sale threw 58 pitches, striking out seven and allowing two runs on one hit.
"He wanted to contribute as soon as possible. And he, did -- right away," Cora said, penciling Sale in for Thursday's game against the Washington Nationals. "It was fun to watch it. It was a good one. I think it means a lot to our group down there. ... The winning feeling, it's always good."
Sale went on the injured list following a June 1 start that he left complaining of shoulder soreness -- the sixth straight season he spent time on the injured list. He was diagnosed with a stress reaction in his left shoulder.
He made two rehab starts at Triple-A Worcester, pitching two innings and then 4⅓ innings, before convincing the Red Sox that he might as well finish his strengthening program in the majors.
"You get something taken away that you really like, it's never fun," Sale said. "Go take a kid's favorite toy away, he's going to throw a fit for a little bit. Just kind makes you appreciate it a little bit more."
Sale made seven straight All-Star Games, posting a 103-62 record with a 2.89 ERA before agreeing in March 2019 to a deal that added $145 million and five years to his contract. Since then, he has gone 16-15 with a 4.21 ERA.
Including Friday, when he did not qualify for a decision, he is 5-2 with a 4.38 ERA in 12 starts this season.
"All the in-between stuff sucks," Sale said. "I'm not the first to say it, and I'm probably not going to be the last to say it. But on the flip side of that, any time I ever step on that mound and stare down that barrel and have competition, a batter facing me, there's nothing like that feeling I get out there. That feeling will never get old, and if it does, it's time to pack it up and take to the house."