Sale allowed a hit, struck out two and hit a batter before getting the Toronto Blue Jays' Randal Grichuk to pop out to second base and end the inning Tuesday night. The Red Sox went on to win 7-2, boosted by pinch hitter Brock Holt's go-ahead home run in the seventh inning.
"Any time you make the playoffs and give yourself a chance to be that last team, it's a pretty special thing,'' Holt said. "We're excited by that, but we've got more work to do.''
Guided by rookie manager Alex Cora, the Red Sox have the best record in baseball at 99-46. They ensured themselves at least a spot in the American League wild-card game while reaching the postseason for the third straight year.
Their postgame celebration was lining up for routine high-fives and heading back to the clubhouse, where they toasted with champagne.
"We're in great position to win the division and then to accomplish other things,'' Cora said. "As I told the group, I'm very proud of them.''
Boston assured its third straight postseason team, matching the Red Sox squads of 2003-05 and 2007-09. By clinching a postseason berth after their 145th game, they tied for the sixth earliest by any team since 1996, per Elias Sports Bureau.
Cora had said Sale, who hadn't pitched since Aug. 12, would throw only two innings with a maximum pitch count of 40 as he recovers from shoulder inflammation. He threw 26 pitches before Brandon Workman took over for the second inning. Sale threw a few more pitches in the bullpen afterward.
"We're taking care of the guy,'' Cora said.
Nathan Eovaldi replaced Workman to begin the third inning and lasted 3⅔ innings, allowing two runs on three hits in what served as an audition to be Boston's long reliever in the playoffs.
The AL East-leading Red Sox have a nine-game cushion over the second-place New York Yankees.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.