FORT MYERS, FL.
Edwin Diaz could have picked up an unusual knee injury at almost anything this time of year.
Go for a walk with his dog. Put groceries in the trunk. Tie his shoelaces.
He might even shut down a Grapefruit League game for the Mets.
But somehow, the harrowing scene that unfolded at LoanDepot Park in Miami on Wednesday night – when Diaz collapsed on the artificial turf after tearing the patellar tendon in his right knee during a post-game celebration – left his Puerto Rican teammates in shock Disbelief rallied around him – made this unfortunate incident significantly worse.
And that’s no snub to the World Baseball Classic, which is baseball’s attempt to capitalize on a World Cup-like passion for a sport with limited international appeal beyond a handful of core nations. It’s a fun event, and this year’s all-star roster collection, the best ever, was a coup for MLB.
As a concept, the WBC is a great idea. The darker reality, however, is that what happened to Diaz and the fallout from that injury — he’s likely lost for the season — can’t be brushed aside as a bizarre accident that could have happened anywhere. The fact is, he wasn’t injured anywhere – his knee buckled as he was swamped by exuberant teammates celebrating Puerto Rico’s massive 5-2 win over the Dominican Republic.
MLB can’t beat the brutal visuals of this scene, nor the horrifying tribute to Diaz, the Mets, their fans, and indeed the upcoming regular season, which continues without the sport’s most electrifying conclusion of a year ago.
That’s a steep price to pay, and that’s why more players – and certainly those players’ teams – are likely to reevaluate their participation in the years to come.
The WBC puts these players and teams in a difficult position trying to balance the pull of playing for their country, which for many is a deeply meaningful experience, with the obligation to play in the next six to seven months to do a high-paying job. These roles are not mutually exclusive.
The majority of these players – fingers crossed – will return to their clubs unharmed and ready for Opening Day. But the Diaz incident is particularly devastating on several levels, not the least of which is his arduous rise from Flushing outcast to beloved closer — serenaded by trumpets no less — culminating in a record five-year $102-million deal in November.
You could say that Diaz was lucky this didn’t happen when he entered his fellowship, but being financially secure is almost beside the point.
Diaz was well aware of the risk, although no one could have imagined the sad spectacle on Wednesday night.
He’d just hit the side to punch Puerto Rico’s ticket to the WBC Quarterfinals, his teammates stormed the mound, and he briefly dodged the scrum before suddenly collapsing.
From then on it was a horror show. With Diaz sprawled on the turf, players waved to the dugout for medical attention. When Diaz couldn’t hobble off the field with help, two teammates tried to carry him, each holding a leg up, but he immediately waved it off, apparently in too much pain.
Eventually, Diaz was placed in a wheelchair, tears streaming down his face. Fellow Met Francisco Lindor crouched a few paces away, head bowed.
Lindor’s desperation was certainly shared in the Metsville area as her World Series dreams were marred by a nightmare some would argue could have been avoided.
The Diaz incident is precisely why Max Scherzer and Brandon Nimmo both renounced the WBC, the latter after — like Diaz — he signed a new free-agent deal for eight years and $162 million.
“That’s my main thing right now, the Mets,” said Nimmo, who chose not to play for Team Italy. “I want to win a World Series. Maybe that makes me a bad person, but I’d rather win a World Series than a WBC.”
Mets owner Steve Cohen spent more than $482 million on free agents, including Diaz, during the offseason to take MLB’s top payroll to $374 million — almost $100 million more than the second-ranked Yankees . Cohen may not be able to buy a title outright, but that wouldn’t stop him from trying, and locking up Diaz — a day after last year’s World Series ended — was a huge piece of that championship puzzle.
The freaky nature of Diaz’s injury is no consolation to Cohen or his now-distraught fan base, who were anxiously counting down the minutes until Opening Day (not to mention Diaz’s personal agony). Aside from his incredible talent, Diaz is a stand-up guy and is held in high esteem in every clubhouse he has set foot in. He was a tremendous asset to the Mets, and now he appears to be gone for the season.
That’s a massive L to take in mid-March when games don’t technically count, and that goes for both spring training and the WBC.