BOSTON -- Under normal circumstances, a Sunday matinee matchup between aces Jacob deGrom and Chris Sale would be must-see TV.
Even on a football Sunday.
They will face each other Sunday at Fenway Park, but while the New York Mets' deGrom continues his march toward what would be a rather unconventional Cy Young Award, Sale is scheduled to pitch only three innings as he works his way back from left shoulder inflammation.
Sale, the Boston Red Sox's main guy, pitched one inning in his first stint off his second trip to the disabled list as Boston manager Alex Cora does what has to be done to get the skinny left-hander ready for the postseason.
Said Cora, the day after his ace's first outing: "He's encouraged. Yesterday was his first big league outing and like he was all over the place and he admitted it and the game sped up with him right away with the (leadoff) double and it's like, 'Oh, wait a minute, I've got to compete.' But he'll be fine. At the end he struck out two, induced a popup. I know Sunday will be better."
Cora's team reduced its magic number for clinching the American League East to four after Saturday's 5-3 victory over the Mets (coupled with the New York Yankees' loss in New York). The first-year manager will patch things together after Sale.
DeGrom has been great all year, pitching to a 1.71 ERA with incredible consistency. But a complete lack of support has him 8-9 coming into this start. Among his many individual accomplishments, he has gone 26 straight starts allowing three earned runs or fewer -- breaking a 108-year major league record.
The right-hander appears to be in a battle for the Cy Young with Max Scherzer and Aaron Nola, but both have faltered lately, Scherzer lasting four innings Friday night -- his shortest outing of the season.
DeGrom has eight straight starts of two earned runs or less but is 3-3 during that span.
"Pitching is all about run prevention, no matter how you do it," Mets manager Mickey Calloway said earlier this week. "All the things that Jacob's done this year is all about run prevention, and he's been by far the best in Major League Baseball at it.
"If you put both leagues together he should win the Cy Young out of both leagues in my mind because he's preventing runs better than anybody else in Major League Baseball."
In another matchup twist, the only home run deGrom hit in college was off Sale.
The Red Sox, beaten 8-0 Friday night, trailed the Mets 3-1 before scoring four runs in the fifth inning as Rick Porcello won his 17th and the team won their 102nd on Saturday.
The table seems set for the Red Sox to be able to clinch the division at Yankee Stadium, which would seem to make it even sweeter for them and their fans. The rivals play three games in the Bronx starting Tuesday night.
Saturday's win brought the Red Sox back to 55 games above .500 (102-47), matching their season high. They need four wins in their last 13 games to break the franchise record for wins in a season, set in 1912.
Boston is 15-4 in interleague play this season, 20-4 in their last 24 home games against the National League and 36-9 in their last 45 interleague games. A win Sunday gives them 13 straight interleague series wins.
Before Saturday's game, Dustin Pedroia and the Red Sox honored David Wright, whose career will almost surely come to an end when he starts at third base for the Mets on Sept. 29. Pedroia presented Wright with a No. 5 from the manual scoreboard at Fenway.
Wright and Pedroia played together on the 2009 USA team at the World Baseball Classic and also share the same agent.