Red Sox reliever Zack Kelly didn’t have a serious game face on when he trotted to the mound from the bullpen Tuesday night at Fenway Park.

Instead, Kelly was just thoroughly enjoying the moment.

“Running in from the bullpen I was smiling ear to ear,” Kelly told reporters as seen on NESN postgame coverage.

It was a moment months in the making for Kelly and one that was never guaranteed to happen, either. It seemed like the 28-year-old was dealt a lost season in mid-April when he walked off the mound at Tropicana Field with his emotions running high after suffering an elbow injury.

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Kelly underwent successful surgery in early May and Dr. Jeffrey Dugas, who performed the operation, gave the right-hander a chance to pitch again this season. Kelly clung to that notion with hope and also put in the requisite and meticulous rehab work to give him this opportunity.

After surely having his patience tested, Kelly was back on a big-league mound against the Tampa Bay Rays as he came on for Tanner Houck in the fourth inning to pitch a clean inning of relief in Boston’s 9-7 loss.

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“I never, ever take this game for granted,” Kelly said. “Being able to pitch at Fenway, it was taken away from me for five months. A lot of work went into that and a lot of work went into getting back out there tonight. And so regardless of the result, tonight I was happy just to be back.”

Getting Kelly back on the mound at Fenway certainly was a welcomed sight to Red Sox manager Alex Cora.

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“Great. He worked hard to get back,” Cora told reporters, as seen on NESN postgame coverage. “Fastball was 94 (mph) I think it was, but forget that. The fact that he had surgery, he worked hard during the rehab, got his innings in the rehab assignment and to be out there, it was good to see him out there and it was good to see him smile in the dugout.”

Kelly showed promise in the very early part of the season that he could be a useful arm out of the bullpen. He posted a 3.68 ERA with six strikeouts in his first six appearances before getting injured.

Kelly is looking forward to a normal offseason after pushing himself to return. And the best part is that by coming back, Kelly can officially put this injury in the past.

“I made a point to put myself in a position to be able to come back regardless of how long, or how little amount of games we had left,” Kelly said. “And to do that tonight, just to kind of close the book on this chapter, it was special.”

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Featured image via David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports Images