MIAMI (AP)New York Mets fans began the year dreaming about a World Series closed out by Edwin Díaz.
For now, they’re facing a potential nightmare.
In a startling scene, Díaz was taken off the field in a wheelchair after injuring his right knee celebrating Puerto Rico’s victory over the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic on Wednesday night.
There was no immediate word on how severely Díaz was hurt – the Mets said he will undergo more tests Thursday. But the way his teammates stood around him in shock didn’t look encouraging.
The injury was exactly what big league teams and their fans fear the most when their high-priced stars go play for their countries in the WBC. Díaz signed a $102 million, five-year deal in November.
No matter what, this setback was sure to set off spirited debate about whether the tournament, which started in 2006 and was held every three or four years until a cancellation in 2021, is worth it.
“Those things, they can happen to anybody at any given time,” said Los Angeles Dodgers star outfielder Mookie Betts, who was playing for the United States when Díaz was hurt.
“You can always try to place blame on the WBC, but that was just a freak accident that could happen to anyone at any given time,” he said.
Mets teammates Pete Alonso and Jeff McNeil also were with the U.S. team in a game against Colombia when a coach told them about Díaz.
“It’s just really heartbreaking to hear about Edwin,” Alonso said after a 3-2 win in Phoenix.
“Every day you show up to the yard, there’s a possibility of getting hurt. There’s hazard in the job. Anyone can get hurt at any given time. Anything can happen,” he said. “That’s the risk we run playing baseball. We’re athletes and injuries are unfortunately part of the game.”
It’s true that injuries can happen anytime in baseball. Infielder Gavin Lux tore his knee in a recent exhibition game for the Dodgers and is out for the season. Los Angeles teammate Freddie Freeman hurt his hamstring this week playing for Canada.
Still, the intensity of many WBC games is what often scares MLB teams about seeing their players in this event.
“Obviously there’s risk involved,” three-time AL MVP Mike Trout of the Angels said after helping the U.S. win. “You’re still playing baseball, and it’s spring training.”
Díaz was swarmed by teammates after pitching a perfect ninth inning in a 5-2 win that clinched Puerto Rico a spot in the WBC quarterfinals. The group was jumping together in the infield when the right-hander collapsed to the ground, and he immediately reached for his right leg.
As famous for his trumpet-driven entrance music as his dominant pitching, Díaz was in tears and did not put any weight on his right leg as a coach and trainer helped him limp toward the dugout.
Díaz’s brother, Reds pitcher Alexis Díaz, was also crying as Edwin was put in a chair and wheeled away. Mets teammate and Puerto Rico shortstop Francisco Lindor stood nearby with his hands on his head.
“Nightmare scenario for Mets fans and the WBC,” tweeted longtime reliever Jerry Blevins. “Edwin Díaz seems to have been really injured after celebrating a win. This is the big fears mlb players & teams have with participating in the Tournament.”
Díaz is critical to the Mets’ World Series aspirations. Without him, newcomer David Robertson probably would be next in line for the closer’s spot.
Puerto Rico manager Yadier Molina said Díaz underwent testing at the stadium.
“I was hugging our coaches in the dugout. Then when we looked up, Edwin was on the ground,” Molina said. “I didn’t know. I didn’t know how to act, I didn’t know how to – what to say. I mean, I didn’t know. It got me for a surprise.
“Like I said in the dugout, it sucks, sorry, but when you see a guy that works so hard like Edwin, I mean when you see him on the ground like that, I mean it just is sad.”
The 28-year-old Díaz is a two-time All-Star and two-time reliever of the year. He converted 32 saves for the Mets last season with a 1.31 ERA and 118 strikeouts in 62 innings.
He’s become a sensation in New York for his pitching and his dance-inducing entrance music that leads with a rousing trumpet riff. Díaz comes out of the bullpen at Citi Field to “Narco” by Blasterjaxx and Timmy Trumpet. He even had trumpets painted onto his cleats for the WBC.
Díaz is hardly the first pro athlete injured during a rowdy celebration. Los Angeles Angels slugger Kendrys Morales broke his leg in 2010 taking a big leap onto home plate after hitting a game-ending grand slam – manager Mike Scioscia subsequently outlawed bouncing scrums at home plate.
Chicago Cubs pitcher Ryan Dempster broke a toe catching his foot in a dugout railing while rushing the field in 2009, and the Minnesota Twins’ Denny Hocking had his nose broken by overzealous teammates after his first walk-off home run in 2001. Perhaps most famously of all, Arizona Cardinals kicker Bill Gramatica ended his rookie season in 2001 by tearing his ACL jumping up and down after a field goal.
But those were games that counted for their teams in regular-season play. Díaz’s injury is sure to fuel those who say it’s a bad idea for big league teams to loan out players for international play.
The WBC tournament is being played as MLB players ramp up for the start of the season at the end of March. The WBC has rules in place – in addition to some request from MLB teams – to try and protect players, particularly pitchers, from getting injured.
Pitchers for all countries are limited to 65 pitches per outing in the first round. If a player throws more than 50 pitches in an outing, he can’t pitch for the next four days. If he throws more than 30, he can’t pitch the next day. Finally, if he throws on back-to-back days, he must sit out the next day.
But few could have imagined Wednesday’s scene.
Puerto Rico center fielder Kiké Hernandez said the locker room was quiet after Diaz’s injury.
“It’s a certain point that its bigger than the game,” Hernandez said. “It’s very unfortunate that it happened. As excited as we were about the game and all that, that’s one of our brothers.”
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