The Mets Are Dealt a Blow

Edwin Diaz, a star closer, goes down during a celebration.

David Santiago/Miami Herald via AP
Puerto Rico pitcher Edwin Diaz (39) is helped by team pitching coach Ricky Bones and medical staff after a World Baseball Classic game against the Dominican Republic. March 15, 2023 at Miami. David Santiago/Miami Herald via AP

The image of Edwin Diaz — arguably baseball’s best closer — being wheeled off a baseball diamond, his crumpled knee unable to bear the weight of his lithe body, lost for the season with a patellar tendon tear, will serve as another piece of evidence for those who lament the real damage that can ensue from meaningless games.   

The injury to Mr. Diaz is especially galling to Mets fans because of its circumstances. The flamethrower, so accustomed to uncorking blazing fastballs and Frisbee-like sliders, was injured while celebrating a win for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic.

The WBC is a quadrennial tournament where players represent their homelands, or lands from which they can plausibly claim descent. Jewish players compete for Israel, and those of Italian lineage represent Italy. Somehow, Britain fields a team. 

The WBC takes place during spring training, itself a month-long slate of exhibitions meant to round players into shape and allow them to hone their skills in the sunshine. It harkens to the days when players made pittances, took odd jobs in the offseason, and required a runway to work back into playing shape. 

Any contest, however, can present the opportunity for injury. A turned ankle, a strained muscle, a wayward pitch; to take the field is to risk getting clobbered. Mr. Diaz signed, just this offseason, a contract for $102 million over five years, making his loss especially painful to contemplate for the Mets owner, Steven Cohen. 

The anguish goes beyond that billionaire. Mr. Diaz’s brother Alexis, who pitches for the Reds, was seen crying — don’t tell Tom Hanks — along with other members of the Puerto Rican team. Their manager, Yadier Molina, ventured that ​​”when you see a guy there who works so hard like Edwin on the ground like that, it’s sad.”

Injuries are a part of the game, but they can hit especially hard when sustained other than in the heat of competition. In 2010, the slugger Kendry Morales hit a game-winning grand slam, only to break his leg celebrating at the plate. He was on the shelf for two years. Matt Cain sliced his finger open making a ham and cheese sandwich. 

David Price once missed a start due to carpal tunnel syndrome, reportedly sustained while playing the video game Fortnite. Trevor Bauer had a playoff start pushed back because he injured his hand performing what his manager called “routine maintenance” on a drone. Sammy Sosa went on the injured list because he sprained a ligament while sneezing. Kevin Brown punched a wall. 

One injury lingers in Yankee lore, prompting old-timers to shake their heads to this day. Its setting was not a languid exhibition in March but the grandest stage of them all, the World Series. The year was 1951, and the Bombers were amid a run that would see them take home six titles in seven seasons. 

In the midst of this cloud of glory, 1951 was a transition year. It was the last for Joseph Paul DiMaggio, who, hobbled by bone spurs in his heel, would limp to only a .263 batting average. Fortunately there was a successor, nicknamed the “Commerce Comet” because of his galactic talent and Oklahoman origins. He was a switch hitter of grace and force named Mickey Mantle.

It was Game 2 of the Fall Classic, and a rookie for the Giants named Willie Mays — history would hear more from him — lofted a fly ball to right field. Mantle raced for it, but was called off by DiMaggio, the titan in twilight. Mantle stopped short, in deference, and tripped over an exposed drain pipe, tearing his anterior cruciate ligament.

Mantle would play in 16 All-Star games and win seven World Series, but the rest of his career was marred by pain and injury. Medicine was not then what it is now, and the freak injury in his first season would haunt him until his last. Mr. Diaz’s celebration has already turned somber. Here’s to hoping it avoids turning tragic.

This article has been updated from the bulldog.

The New York Sun

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