Before the injury, healthy perspective on the season seemed possible.

No, the Orioles could not recapture the splendor of 2012, when they seemed to win every close game and streaked to the franchise’s first postseason berth in 15 years. But this season still carried significant pleasures; five Orioles made the All-Star Game, and Chris Davis set the team's single-season home run record. After a generation of losing, Baltimore still had a winning team built around a stable core.

But it would be hard to overstate how essential Machado is to any feelings of optimism. At 21, he already played third based with a mastery that evoked comparisons to Brooks Robinson. At bat, he flicked doubles to all corners of the park. In the clubhouse, goofing with his young nephew, he looked even younger, like a kid who could be dating your daughter or working the counter at a local burger joint.

Few stories in sports stir as much joy as the flowering of a prodigy. There is something almost transcendent in the unlimited possibility of it. If Machado could range within a few feet of the visiting dugout and Yankee Stadium and still throw the runner out, what couldn't he do?

When the fragility of such promise is revealed, the corresponding worry cuts deep.

“You know it’s part of sports, but you hate it,” said Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts, whose own breakout season in 2005 ended with a scary elbow injury. “To see a kid go through what he went through yesterday, at the end of such a phenomenal season, my heart broke for him.”

Baseball history is littered with phenoms who were struck down mid-ascent. The range of post-injury outcomes is vast.

Orioles Hall of Famer Jim Palmer won 15 games and beat Sandy Koufax in the World Series at age 20. But he missed large portions of the 1967 and 1968 seasons with biceps tendinitis that led to a torn rotator cuff. Palmer, who has watched Machado’s development from the television booth, said he wondered if his career was lost.

He returned good as new in 1969 and won another 245 games.

“It can be a good time for reflection on how fortunate you are,” Palmer said of a significant injury. “I know for me, I realized that God had given me a great gift, just as he’s given Manny great agility and great hands.”

Palmer said he’d urge Machado to take solace from the great advances in sports medicine in recent decades. He noted Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, who tore ligaments in his knee at the end of the 2011 season and returned to win NFL Most Valuable Player honors in 2012.

“Look around to the NBA, the NFL and baseball, where we’ve seen guys have horrific injuries and come back even better,” Palmer said. “I know Manny is disappointed, because he wants to play every game. It’s a significant speed bump but not anything where he can’t go on to have the great career we know he’s on track for.”

childs.walker@baltsun.com

Baltimore Sun reporter Nicholas Fouriezos contributed to this article.