Manager Alex Cora spoke to reporters Saturday afternoon and said he believed the Red Sox still had a good chance of earning a spot in the postseason based on their play in recent days.
“Anything’s possible,” Cora said.
A few hours later, sitting in the same chair, president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski offered grim details about what could be a significant injury for lefthander Chris Sale.
And just like that, the tenor of this unforeseeable season changed for the worse again.
Sale was placed on the injured list retroactive to Wednesday with what the team said was inflammation in his elbow based on the results of an MRI taken at Massachusetts General Hospital.
“All I know is that he has inflammation at this point,” Dombrowski said when asked if Sale had any ligament damage. “People will further read the MRIs and then they’ll make their diagnosis.”
One of the opinions will come from noted sports surgeon Dr. James Andrews. Los Angeles-based Dr. Neal ElAttrache is likely to be consulted, too. That information is not expected to reach the Sox until Monday.
“Then [Sale] will determine if he wants to go and see them or not,” Dombrowski said. “We’re all on the same page. . . . We’re very open to having him go see them. I would think he will but I don’t know that for sure.”
That would strongly suggest Sale does not have routine inflammation, as did the team not making him available to the media.
“Chris, I think, needs a couple of days to himself at this point,” Dombrowski said.
Said Cora: “It’s not easy. I talked to him and we’ve just got to wait and see. That’s the way it is. He has our support.”
Sale allowed one run on three hits and had struck out 11 through 5⅔ innings at Cleveland on Tuesday night. Five of the next eight hitters reached base, and Sale came out of the game after 108 pitches.
Cora said he did not notice any particular red flags, noting that Sale hit 97 m.p.h. with his fastball in his final inning.
According to Dombrowski, Sale felt unusual stiffness in his elbow on Wednesday, but did not report it to the team’s medical staff until Friday.
“He didn’t think much of it,” Dombrowski said, “but there’s definitely inflammation in there. The MRI showed that.”
Sale’s agent, B.B. Abbott, said he could offer no update beyond what the team provided.
Sale missed a month of the 2014 season with a flexor muscle strain in his left arm. He had two stints on the injured last season with a shoulder injury, and threw only 44⅓ innings (including 15⅓ in the postseason) after the All-Star break.
“This is brand new. This happened Tuesday. There’s no question,” Dombrowski said. “When they read the MRI, they know that it happened on Tuesday. They’re still looking at the information. We don’t have any further diagnosis at this point.”
If Sale were to require Tommy John ligament replacement surgery, he would likely miss the entire 2020 season.
Sale, who was signed to a five-year, $145 million contract extension in March, is 6-11 with a 4.40 earned run average despite averaging a major-league best 13.3 strikeouts per nine innings.
With three scheduled days off remaining this month and righthander Nathan Eovaldi returning to the rotation on Sunday, the Sox can work around Sale’s absence in the short term. Their immediate response was to recall righthanded reliever Ryan Brasier from Triple A Pawtucket.
Sale’s absence beyond a few weeks would hamper the team’s already thin hopes of returning to the postseason.
“We’ve got to keep going. That’s the way it is,” Cora said. “We’ll find out more in the upcoming days. As of now, somebody has to step up. That’s how it works in this business.”
The Sox also have lefthander David Price on the injured list with inflammation in his left wrist. But he threw in the bullpen before Saturday night’s 4-0 victory against Baltimore and should return soon.
Sale’s pitching mechanics and arm angle have long suggested he would be susceptible to an elbow injury because of the torque he puts on the joint.
But, at age 30, he has defied those projections and established himself as one of the best pitchers of his generation. The start on Tuesday included Sale’s 2,000th career strikeout, a milestone he reached faster than any pitcher in history, only 1,626 innings.
For now, the Sox will have an uneasy wait.
“We’re in a situation, I don’t really know where it’s going to take us at this point,” Dombrowski said.