September 30, 2006
Under The Knife
New York Blues
There are other injuries in baseball, but in this final weekend of the regular season, there are just two that matter. It's not East Coast bias; it's two playoff teams that have lost their aces in the final weekend. Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez helped bring their teams this far, but now they'll be well-paid cheerleaders, baseball Moseses (Mosii?) who won't get to go to the promised land, at least from the mound.
Martinez is the more serious case. He is definitely out for the playoffs...I think. The strain in his calf is very low, near where the gastrocnemius muscle becomes the Achilles tendon. It's a particularly bad location for a strain, one that often takes weeks to return to partial function, let alone allowing for high-level athletic activity. Martinez injured the leg in a classic compensation manner: not only was Martinez dropping his arm angle to try and get hitters out, video shows that he significantly changed his stride and landing spot. Pitching is such a kinetic chain event that the weakest link--or the exposed weakness--will often break. Could Martinez make a Willis Reed-like return in a later series? I guess anything is possible, but the available information doesn't indicate that this is anything more than the wishcasting of Mets fans. I'm more worried about the arm angle that Martinez showed. The history of Martinez's shoulder is much more worrisome than even a severe calf strain. While the Mets ace should have plenty of time to recover by spring training, I'm hoping that if he drops his arm angle next year, it's because it's desirable, not because it's necessary.
Johnson is a tougher call for the Yankees. His is a very serious condition, a herniated disc in his lower back, but one that Johnson could come back from in time to pitch later in the playoffs. Johnson had an epidural injection and, if it works and relieves his pain, he could pitch. The questions are "will it work?" and "if so, how well?" The problem is that the Yankees may not know the answers in time to set their playoff roster. They'll have to rely on their medical staff to be sure, but one advantage is that Johnson has dealt with this before. It was actually worse last time, requiring surgery to fix the problem. While surgery isn't out of the question here, Johnson knows how this feels, and he'll know whether or not he can go. The Yankees have until the weekend's up to decide whether to roll the dice and keep Johnson on the roster.
Finally, one problem that doesn't affect the postseason is C.C. Sabathia's. The big lefty had knee surgery to fix a small cartilage tear. He'd been pitching through the injury since August, so this shouldn't affect his pitching in the short term. The bigger concern is that with his bulk, the knee could begin to degenerate. The cartilage repair should hold, but eventually it will become compressed and harder, or worse still, it might tear again and need to be removed. Sabathia may be an athletic big man, but gravity works. Taking some weight off could extend his career.
I'll be back on Monday with updates on all the playoff matchups and how health will help decide who gets a ring. October has a big September to live up to. I'd also like to thank everyone for another great year, my fourth at Prospectus. From the people I work with, the people behind the scenes who don't get nearly enough credit, my friends and family, my new friends at ESPN, and you, the best readers ever. You power me.