FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The frustrating thing was that everything was going so right.
In late July, Chris Sale had a minuscule (2.04) ERA. He had struck out 207 batters is just 141 innings. His strikeout-to-walk ratio was better than 6-to-1. Opposing hitters were batting a feeble .179 against him.
The Red Sox had taken great pains to preserve and protect Sale from the start of spring training. They delayed his first Grapefruit League start. They meticulously monitored his workload and plotted a reduced between-start routine.
Everything was accounted for. This time, there would be no drop-off in the final two months. This time, Sale would be at full strength for the stretch run and the postseason.
But after a commanding July 27 start against Minnesota in which Sale toyed with the Twins over six shutout innings -- three hits allowed, 10 strikeouts recorded -- Sale pitched only 17 innings the rest of the way, sidelined by what the Red Sox termed "mild shoulder inflammation.''
There were still hints of dominance. In his next start following a two-and-a-half week DL stint, he looked good as new, fanning 12 with just hit allowed over five innings in Baltimore. But he was soon back on the DL again and didn't resurface until Sept. 11.
Sale was not himself in the postseason. Opponents ran up his pitch count and his outings were shortened. His most memorable October outing didn't come as a starter, but rather, in pitching the final inning of the World Series-clinching win in Game 5, when he struck out the side against the Dodgers.
After the euphoria of the postseason and the attendant celebrations, Sale went back to work last winter. As a resident of nearby Naples, Fla., he's only 20 or so miles from Fenway South and took full advantage of the proximity, working to get stronger, bigger and, he hopes, more durable.