When the Red Sox gave Chris Sale a contract extension in March 2019, the rosy afterglow of the 2018 World Series still lingered enough to mask some serious concerns with the deal.
For one thing, he’d been hurt during the 2018 season, only making one start between July 27-September 11. It was a game against the Baltimore Orioles, who were so bad that year that manager Alex Cora likened Sale pitching against them to the equivalent of a rehab stint. Harsh, but true; he struck out 12 and walked none over five one-hit innings.
But then, he went back on the sidelines for another month. He still finished that historic 108-win regular season with four fairly solid starts in September, and pitched somewhat well in his postseason starts against the Yankees, Astros, and Dodgers, though he couldn’t shut any of the teams out.
His 9th-inning appearance in Game 5 of the World Series put a stunning varnish on the whole shebang. As Sale entered from the bullpen at Dodger Stadium, the expression on his face gave away the outcome before he even reached the mound. He struck out the side, 1-2-3. His final pitch brought Manny Machado down to his knee. Game over.
Riding high off that moment, extending Sale seemed like one of the most obvious ways to ensure that the dominance of the 2018 team continued for years to come. But less than a week later, he allowed seven earned runs in his Opening Day start. He didn’t have a scoreless game until May 3. As the spring progressed, struggles that were first attributed to a shorter offseason and little spring training work (Cora wanted to give the rotation extra work after the long postseason run) became legitimate concerns. Even though he racked up double-digit strikeouts in nine of eleven starts between the beginning of May and the end of June, he couldn’t keep runs off the board.
By early August, he was done for the year. He should’ve gotten Tommy John surgery then, but they wanted to exhaust all other options before taking that route. When the 2020 season was delayed by the pandemic, he finally has the surgery.
With a recovery timetable of over a year, Sale missed all of 2020 and most of 2021. After returning from Tommy John in August 2021, he fractured his rib in batting practice. When he recovered from that, a comebacker fractured his pinky in his second start of the year. And while rehabbing from the pinky injury, he broke his wrist riding a bicycle. He’s also had COVID at least twice and remains unvaccinated.
At this point, it’s impossible to count on Sale. It’s been years since he’s looked like a formidable beast on the mound, and he’s been hurt more than he’s been healthy. He’s missed so much of the lucrative contract extension signed in the halcyon days of the 2018-19 offseason that at this point, many fans are just ready to move on.