Call this Opening Night.

Chris Sale takes the mound Wednesday for the first time as a member of the Red Sox. He was acquired this offseason for four top prospects, a major acquisition that immediately made Boston the favorite to win the American League pennant.

Opening Day has come and gone, with plenty of good vibes to be found in a 5-3 win over the Pirates. Rick Porcello followed up his Cy Young season with a win, Rookie of the Year favorite Andrew Benintendi hit a three-run home run, and the bullpen held on for the victory.

It was a great start to the season, but a precursor of things to come. Sale takes the mound in Boston’s first prime-time performance of the year. He’s averaged 226 strikeouts a season over the last five years, and finished in the top six in Cy Young voting each of those seasons.

His competitive nature makes him an intimidating presence on the mound. It also led him to take a pair of scissors to a room full of Chicago throwback jerseys he didn’t like. Sale thought the jerseys reflected poorly on the team, that it was more interested in marketing than winning.

Sale might not like throwback jerseys, but he’s a throwback to a time when pitchers kept hitters uncomfortable at the plate. He hit 17 batters last season, the second straight year he led the league in hit batters. He commands the inside of the plate, something pitchers don’t do much in this era.


“He likes to come inside,” said Red Sox catcher Sandy Leon. “Pitchers have to come inside without being afraid of hitting someone. He’s not afraid.”

Throughout spring training, Sale impressed everyone with his desire. On his first day, he told pitching coach Carl Willis that he would do whatever it takes to win. That sounds like a cliche, but for a guy who has never been to the postseason it’s the truth.

“The will to win is evident,” said Manager John Farrell. “Whether it’s a team function, or playing ping pong, you see it. There’s a purpose to everything he does.”

Sale’s sole purpose in Boston is to help take a defending AL East championship team to the next level. There is still a bitter taste left behind from a three-game sweep at the hands of the Cleveland Indians. The Sox want to be better than that, and bringing in a guy who struck out 233 batters in 2262/3 innings last season should help them achieve that goal.

What the Sox never expected is a February injury to David Price that would put last year’s Opening Day starter on the shelf. Price won’t be available for a month or more. Losing a pitcher like that would derail most team’s hopes of contending. With Sale and Porcello, the Sox think they have a Big Two that can keep them in the hunt until the Big Three is reunited.

They say hope springs eternal on Opening Day. And there was plenty of optimism in the air Monday as the Patriots dropped by with five Super Bowl trophies and the Sox got the ‘W’ on a sun-splashed day at Fenway Park. It was a great start.

On Wednesday night, under the lights, the Sox hope to get a glimpse of a pitcher expected to make all the difference this season. They’re hoping Sale’s starts are appointment viewing, and that the big lefty helps them keep an appointment with October.

Tom Caron is a studio host for the Red Sox broadcast on NESN. His column appears in the Portland Press Herald on Tuesdays.

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