Boston Red Sox: Chris Sale will have Tommy John surgery after all

FT. MYERS, FL - MARCH 1: Chris Sale #41 of the Boston Red Sox throws before a Grapefruit League game against the Atlanta Braves on March 1, 2020 at jetBlue Park at Fenway South in Fort Myers, Florida. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)
FT. MYERS, FL - MARCH 1: Chris Sale #41 of the Boston Red Sox throws before a Grapefruit League game against the Atlanta Braves on March 1, 2020 at jetBlue Park at Fenway South in Fort Myers, Florida. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images) /

Despite his best efforts, Boston Red Sox ace Chris Sale will undergo Tommy John surgery after all.

Chris Sale tried to hold out as long as he could. Until he couldn’t. The Boston Red Sox lefthander will undergo Tommy John surgery after all. The word came Thursday afternoon. That giant sound of wind was the air escaping further out of Red Sox Nation’s balloon.

Sale hasn’t faced batters since last August 17, when he was shut down for the season as the elbow flared. Instead of surgery then he was given a platelet-rich plasma injection. He hoped the injection and the off-season would do the job. Until it didn’t.

He felt the elbow getting sore again when pitching in a spring training game March 1. The Red Sox shut him down, and he underwent an MRI two days later. Surgery not recommended; new Red Sox manager Ron Roenicke said the doctors recommended a week off before throwing again.

“He’ll start playing catch again [then],” Roenicke told reporters at the time. “If everything is good, we’ll progress.”

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Until they couldn’t. Sale resumed a throwing program Monday. Now it’s Tommy John surgery. Nobody knows when baseball season will resume now that it’s postponed over the coronavirus outbreak, but if and when it does it won’t see Sale on the mound. In year one of a five-year, $145 million deal, this was the last thing Sale and the Red Sox needed.

Not to mention the last thing Boston needed to hear. One indignant tweet said it: “Tom Brady leaves New England. Mookie Betts leaves the Red Sox. Chris Sale Tommy John. Bruins season canceled in first place. Celtics season canceled before deep playoff run. Is this the worst winter in Boston Sports history???” The “no” answers will be in a small enough minority.

Sale was the last man standing in a 2018 World Series triumph that may or may not prove tainted depending on the final outcome of commissioner Rob Manfred’s investigation into the Red Sox Replay Room Reconnaissance Ring—whenever it comes. They’re accused of deciphering opposing signs in the replay room and signaling the pilfered intelligence to baserunners who’d then flash them to Red Sox hitters.

It cost that World Series-winning manager Alex Cora his job. And it may yet lay an unfair stain on Sale’s magnificent Series-closing performance, when he was brought in to nail down Game Five and struck out the side, then—asked how it felt to be loved and respected by teammates who swarmed and smothered him in triumph—pulled a hoodie up to his face and wept.

He’d pitched himself into elite company with that performance. Only eight men previous—Babe Adams (1909), Ernie Shore (1916), Art Nehf (1922), Hall of Famer Waite Hoyt (1928), Hall of Famer Lefty Gomez (1937), Paul Derringer (1940), Spud Chandler (1943), and Hall of Famer Hal Newhouser (1945)—had gotten both the opening and closing outs of a World Series before him. As it happened, it also meant Sale getting the first and final outs of the Red Sox’s entire season.

That was a season in which his shoulder barked at him enough to limit him to 158 innings, after he’d averaged 205 between 2012-2017 and led the entire Show with 214.1 innings—and 308 strikeouts while he was at it—in 2017.

But the seven-time All-Star had to shake away a shaky 2019 beginning, when his first four starts hung seventeen earned runs on him. Then he regrouped and, in his final 21 starts, secured a 3.83 ERA while keeping the other guys to batting a measly .207 against him, before his elbow started barking with what turned out little to no let-up.

Sale now stands to miss not just whatever proves to be this season but most of 2021 recovering. The Red Sox have rotation depth to solve behind Eduardo Rodriguez and Nathan Eovaldi. Losing David Price in a deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers and innings-eater Rick Porcello to a free agency signing with the New York Mets only begin to illuminate the Red Sox’s pitching issues.

That’s just before you remind yourself the Olde Towne Team has a major lineup hole to secure with Betts going to the Dodgers with Price.

“Tommy John’s been a factor in my life for twenty years now,” Sale told  Boston ABC television affiliate WCVB earlier this month. “It’s on the table, but it’s always been on the table. So, that’s not something I’m going to worry myself with. I can’t go out there with that in the back of my mind. I have to have the confidence that what we’re doing is going to work.”

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Now Sale has Tommy John in the front of his mind, and his schedule. The Boston Red Sox didn’t say just when he’d undergo the procedure. If there’s any good news in the middle of what has seemed a very trying spring, the Red Sox may not be able to contend this season—whenever it may begin—but they’re not exactly in terrible position for a 2021 run if Sale returns even late that season, either.