The 4 2/3 innings Chris Sale tossed in his return to a big league mound Friday night were more enjoyable than anything else the Boston Red Sox starting pitcher had done over the last two months.

A shoulder injury the lanky left-hander suffered on June 1 sent Sale to the injured list, leaving him to the meticulous and monotonous rehab process he has become all too familiar with in recent years.

But Sale was back to what he does best against the Detroit Tigers, and did it exceptionally well, too. He allowed just two runs and no walks in his nearly five innings of work while striking out seven to announce his return with authority.

“There are moments that you can enjoy during the (rehab) process, but as a whole, it flat out sucks,” Sale told reporters following Boston’s 5-2 win, as seen on NESN’s postgame coverage. “But on the flip side of that, any time I ever step on that mound and stare down that barrel and have competition facing me, I don’t care if I’m in the Complex League, if I’m in Worcester. I said it to Trevor (Story) after my first Worcester start, I said, ‘There is nothing like that feeling that I get out there.’ That feeling will never get old, and if it does, it’s time to pick it up and take it to the house.”

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Sale has had similar, highly anticipated starts like this in the past. Spending more time on the IL than he would have liked — he made just 11 starts the last two seasons coming into 2023 — will do that. But it also makes Sale grateful for the opportunity in front of him.

“I would say the first start back always means a little something more just because a lot of work goes into it,” Sale said. “You just kind of appreciate it a little bit more because you get something taken away that you really like, it’s never fun. Take a kid’s favorite toy away he’s going to throw a fit for a little bit.”

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Sale had the look of an ace early. He was efficient and in full control, retiring the first 14 batters he faced before receiving his only blemish of the night in the form of a Kerry Carpenter solo home run.

He threw 42 of his 58 pitches for strikes, allowing him to go deeper in the outing than originally expected.

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“That’s obviously something after a long layoff that can come into question, so being able to command the strike zone was satisfying for sure,” Sale said.

Sale has been through plenty of adversity over the last few seasons. But he’s in a position now to deliver in a big way for the Red Sox as they battle for a playoff spot.

“He’s in a great place,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora told reporters, as seen on NESN’s postgame coverage. “I think Chris over the years and with everything that has happened the last two, whatever obstacles life presents, he’s going to be OK. I don’t think he’s going to fight it anymore, he’s just going to keep working. … From the get-go, he told me, ‘I’m going to be fine. We’re going to be OK.’ He wanted to contribute as soon as possible and he did right away.”

Cora said Sale’s next start is lining up to come next Thursday in the series finale on the road against the Washington Nationals.

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Here are more notes from Friday’s Red Sox-Tigers game:

— With the Red Sox down Kenley Jansen, Chris Martin and Josh Winckowski after they worked back-to-back games, they needed someone else to step up in the bullpen. Chris Murphy answered that call and was lights out to earn a three-inning save, which was the first of his career. He did allow a hit while giving up two walks and striking out four.

— Kyle Barraclough made his Red Sox debut in relief of Sale and ended up earning the win. The right-hander let up a walk and a single, which allowed an inherited runner to score, to the first two batters he faced before settling in nicely. Barraclough didn’t allow another base runner, though, striking out three in 1 1/3 innings of work.

— Story got back on track after a tough start to his season. He registered two hits after having only one in his first three games. He also stole a base.

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“Little by little, we’ll get there,” Cora said. “It’s a process and today he was able to stay back, track some pitches, drive it to right-center, left-center. That’s a good sign. … He’s getting momentum right now with his swing and confidence, too.”

— The City Connect jerseys continue to bring the Red Sox good luck. Boston is now 25-5 since adopting the alternate uniform, including winning 10 of 11 games when donning them this season. There’s even talk now of them possibly wearing jerseys on the road.

— The Red Sox made up ground in the American League wild-card race thanks to the Toronto Blue Jays losing to the Chicago Cubs, 6-2. Boston is now three games behind Toronto for the final playoff spot.

— The Red Sox and Tigers are back at it Saturday with Boston looking to stretch its winning streak to four games. First pitch from Fenway Park is scheduled for 4:10 p.m. ET, and you can watch the game, plus an hour of pregame coverage, on NESN.

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Featured image via Eric Canha/USA TODAY Sports Images