Latest Chris Sale injury has Red Sox season already feeling like it’s not meant to be

FORT MYERS, Fla. – It’s often easy in retrospect to pinpoint the beginning of the end of a baseball season. Think the Yankees’ five-game sweep in August of 2006, or Bobby Valentine insulting Kevin Youkilis in April of 2012, or eight straight losses around the 2019 trade deadline.

Other times, that moment is obvious the second it happens. And so let us play coroner and put the time of death at roughly 9:45 am on Wednesday, March 16, when Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom pivoted from comments about the state of the free agent market to say, “One other thing I do want to tell you guys, which is part of the reason I came out here, is news about Chris Sale. “

Insert darkening clouds, foreboding music, doom.

If the phrase, “Here we go again,” entered your mind, welcome to the club. Bloom proceeded to inform us that the perpetually injured left-hander, whose All-Star days increasingly feel like they belonged to someone else, would miss the start of the season with a broken rib that he suffered while throwing live BP on Instagram last month during the lockout.

It’s hard to determine which part of that sentence is the most ridiculous – that the notoriously social-media averse Sale would hurt himself on a platform that’s one step above Tik Tok, that he did so on his own because baseball couldn’t get its (expletive) together to negotiate a new CBA, or that he’d suffer a stress fracture while throwing a pitch, an injury which probably isn’t unprecedented, but sure has a “How the hell does that happen?” quality to it.

Sale hasn’t been himself since July of 2018, and now we must legitimately question if he’ll ever be again. Shoulder problems preceded elbow problems which necessitated Tommy John surgery, and now he can’t throw a pitch without breaking a rib.

It would be one thing if the Red Sox weren’t so desperately counting on him, but this was supposed to be the year that he returned to form as a dominant force anchoring the rotation alongside All-Star right-hander Nathan Eovaldi. The Red Sox added to the back of their staff in the form of veterans Rich Hill and Michael Wacha, but they lost left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez and expected Sale to eat his innings at an elite level.

Instead they’re left with a 6-foot-6 hole where their No. 2 starter should be, and they delivered the news just as the run on starting pitchers cleaned out the market like a jug of Miralax.

“We’re talking weeks, not days, before we can get a baseball in his hand again,” Bloom said.

Well isn’t that just swell. After so much went right last year, 2022 had a sneaking regression-to-the-mean feel before camp even opened, and now that vibe is hitting with all the subtlety of a massive coronary.

Is it rash to declare a season over before it begins, especially when the team in question proved so resilient a year ago? Of course it is. But when things go south this summer, remember March 16. That’s the day we knew, even if we didn’t want to admit it.

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Before even addressing the Sale situation, Bloom spent time explaining why the team isn’t making splashy acquisitions. He said it’s important not to overreact to the transaction wire, and appropriately enough, pretty much exactly as he spoke, the Jays were in the process of completing a deal for Gold Glove third baseman Matt Chapman while fan-favorite Kyle Schwarber agreed to terms with the Phillies.

In the big picture, he is right. Last year’s signings didn’t move the needle, and the Red Sox ended up winning 92 games and reaching the American League Championship Series.

But if ever a season screamed one-off, it’s that one. Bloom hit on virtually every signing. The Blue Jays woefully underperformed their run differential. The Yankees recognized just a little too late that their attack had atrophied. The Rays foolishly decided to open the postseason with a pair of rookie starters who were eventually overwhelmed by the moment.

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Now the Jays look like a powerhouse. The Yankees have diversified their attack and significantly improved their defense at shortstop and catcher. The Rays are a year older and that’s pretty much all that matters for one of the best young teams in the game.

The Red Sox? They’ve tinkered around the margins and now they’re facing yet another extended absence from a pitcher who’s long been known as “The Condor” but feels more and more like a unicorn – this fanciful creature existing only in myth.

Is it rash to declare a season over before it begins, especially when the team in question proved so resilient a year ago? Of course it is.

But when things go south this summer, remember March 16. That’s the day we knew, even if we didn’t want to admit it.

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