But suddenly, prior to Tuesday night's game, Sale, who has been on a tear and is a front-runner for the Cy Young Award, was placed on the 10-day disabled list with left shoulder inflammation.
So, instead, it will the lefty Brian Johnson on the mound for Boston on Thursday as the Red Sox try to beat Sabathia for the first time in over two years.
Since losing to Boston on July 16, 2016, Sabathia is 6-0 against the Red Sox, including 1-0 in two starts this season.
Thursday is the first of 10 games between the teams the rest of the season -- and this series opens with the Red Sox leading the Yankees by 5 1/2 games atop the American League East.
On Wednesday, while Boston had a rare midweek day off, the Yankees lost at home to the Orioles, falling to 6-6 against that last-place team.
"I don't really allow myself to worry about things that are completely out of our control and I don't get caught up in we need to go win three, we needed to get two, whatever it is," Yankee manager Aaron Boone said before Wednesday's game. "We need to go play well and we know when we go there, especially in Fenway Park, it's a great team that can beat you in a lot of different ways."
Sabathia (6-4, 3.51 ERA) has struggled his last three times out, allowing 17 hits and 11 earned runs in 15 1/3 innings while going 0-1. The Yankees did win the other two starts.
Johnson, moved to the bullpen when the Red Sox acquired former Yankee Nathan Eovaldi from the Tampa Bay Rays, has done well as a starter this season and is 1-3 with a 3.45 ERA overall in 2018. In six starts, including five in a row at the end of June and through July, Johnson yielded only six earned runs in 30 innings -- but he went just 0-1 during that stretch.
He is coming off his best outing of the season -- 5 2/3 scoreless innings on July 26 in a no-decision vs. Minnesota.
Sabathia is 18-13 with a 4.12 ERA in 41 career starts against the Red Sox, 7-5 with a 4.84 ERA in 18 outings at Fenway. He pitched twice against Boston in New York this season, getting a no-decision on May 10 and turning in seven strong innings for a win June 29.
The Yankees lead the season series 5-4 but dropped two of three to the Red Sox at Fenway back in April.
"You wonder what their record would be if they weren't playing us," said New York general manager Brian Cashman. "Because when we go head to head, we do some damage against them and it doesn't seem like anybody else is capable."
The Red Sox have scored just six runs in their last three games but have won two of the three. They tallied three runs in 22 innings against the Phillies.
Mookie Betts is 12-for-28 (.429) lifetime against Sabathia, while Steve Pearce is 11-for-36 (.306) with two homers and just-acquired Ian Kinsler has two homers among his 10 hits in 39 at-bats (.259). But Mitch Moreland is 1-for-7 (.143), Xander Bogaerts 5-for-33 (.152) with a homer, Jackie Bradley Jr. 7-for-30 (.152) and J.D. Martinez 2-for-13 (.154).
Bogaerts was hit with a pitch in the ninth inning of Tuesday night's loss to the Phillies and was officially listed as day-to-day with a right-hand contusion.
X-rays on Bogaerts were negative but asked if that made him feel better, he said: "No, it doesn't. Last year it was kind of the same thing, and I don't want that feeling again."
Bogaerts' hand was a problem for much of the 2017 season after he was hit by a pitch at Tampa Bay. The injury basically ruined his second half.
"This was a bit harder," Bogaerts said. "This guy (Seranthony Dominguez) was throwing hard. I wasn't expecting that."
The Red Sox used five relievers in Tuesday's 3-1 loss.
"It's a good day off tomorrow to reset the bullpen," Cora said after Tuesday's game. "We know where we're at. We know where they're at. Just come out here and play good baseball."
Rick Porcello, Eovaldi and David Price will pitch the other games for the Red Sox, while Luis Severino, J.A. Happ and Masahiro Tanaka will go for the Yankees. Happ, who won his first start with New York, contracted hand, foot and mouth disease but was still scheduled to rejoin the team and make his start in the matchup of two starters acquired by the rivals.
Yankees third base coach Phil Nevin lambasted the players in the dugout at the start of a rain delay Wednesday, with Gleyber Torres guilty of a pair of lazy plays in the field.
The Yankees are 1-for-their-last 17 at-bats with the bases loaded. They do have four sacrifice flies in the 21 plate appearances.