Whether or not your team won this weekend, you have to think that it’s all been very good for baseball to have close matchups, great games, and people either breaking out or tacking a superstar performance onto their resume. I’m still not sure how much it matters to have a great “Division Series.” Trot Nixon smartly understood that winning Game Three with a home run isn’t quite the moment that Kirk Gibson gave us 15 years ago. That’s not to take anything away from the performances of Ivan Rodriguez, Mark Prior, or the traveling Cubs fans who gave the Cubs five home games. I’ve come to like the Wild Card and how it changes the pennant chase, but I haven’t come to embrace the shorter series play-in to the playoffs.
Onto the injuries…
- Jason Schmidt took a lot of, well, rhymes with “Schmidt” on Saturday when he didn’t take the ball for Game Four. We soon learned why: Schmidt has pitched since early August with a torn flexor tendon. Surgery will be necessary to correct this, and the procedure was actually recommended back in August. After consultations with several orthopedists, Schmidt elected to continue pitching after being advised he could not exacerbate the injury. This injury is very similar to one suffered by Robb Nen at the end of the 1999 season. After having surgery on Oct. 7, 1999, Nen was able to return for Spring Training with minor limitations and went on to have a phenomenal 2000 season. The outlook is good for Schmidt’s 2004, a season one hopes will come without the questions about his fortitude.
- Tim Hudson left Game Four of the Sox-A’s series after only one inning with an injury, alternately described as a hip flexor and as a strained oblique. Hudson will have an MRI on Monday to determine the extent of the injury, which sources tell me is a strained oblique. Hudson will not be available for Game Five, but the MRI will determine when–or if–Hudson would be available, assuming there are games he’d need to be available for.
- It never got to the stage where he was needed, but John Smoltz was determined to gut out another painful pitching performance. I’m torn between the apparent need for players in all sports to show “guts” and play hurt and admiration for the players that can do it. Smoltz was in all-too-obvious agony after throwing a slider to Sammy Sosa during Game Four. His teeth clenched, Smoltz managed to figure out how to make Sammy hit it to the deepest part of the park. Expect Smoltz to head back to Birmingham for surgery some time this week. The only questions now are how extensive is the damage and how soon can Smoltz come back?
- Gary Sheffield played well through a painfully swollen hand. Unlike Jose Guillen, his hand/wrist was not broken, but it was undoubtedly painful. Only constant, aggressive treatments got either player back in the lineup. ESPN got a great shot of Guillen keeping his wrist warm with a chemical hot pack wrapped in towels between innings. As with Smoltz, I’m amazed at the capacity for pain tolerance these players showed and wonder at the day when we’ll be able to more closely analyze these injuries. Is Sheffield at 75% better than Darren Bragg at 100%? It will only be a couple more years from now when statistical analysis and injury analysis converge–and baseball will be the big winner.
- Was Johan Santana a bit tight? Perhaps not as nervous, reader “A.G.” wrote in saying that Santana was stretching his hamstrings between innings, but Twins sources say this was in no way connected with his cramping during Game One. With his fastballs up much of the day, that could be one reason why he’s on vacation instead of heading to Game Five.
- Quick Cuts: Anyone still wondering why David Wells got a start and why he’ll be a great pickup this off-season?…If anyone knows the name of the song used in the Nissan Altima commercial (also used for the TV show “Kingpin”), please let me know…Kyle Farnsworth was available after Baker made a decision based on game situation. Dusty Baker hoped not to use him as possible, but Farnsworth felt that he could pitch with his problematic knee if necessary…Byung-Hyun Kim is listed as doubtful with a sore shoulder. I think the injury is probably better listed as “Grady Little’s sick of blown leads-itis”…Ramon Hernandez will be a game-time decision, but will likely not start for Game Five. He is bothered by a lower back strain, but he will be available for pinch-hit duty at worst.
Finally, I’d like to take on the subject of takeouts. In three games on Saturday, baseball became a contact sport and frankly, it’s getting out of hand. From catchers getting waylaid at home plate to catchers blocking the plate and breaking ankles to collisions in the basepaths, baseball needs to take a close look at how the rules are both written and enforced. If even one injury can be saved, it’s worth making baseball more of the graceful sport it should be and less the brutish, Rose-runs-over-Fosse game that it is fast becoming. You’ll notice I didn’t mention Robert Fick in the discussion. What he did is completely different and worthy of every cent of the fines he will pay. Fick’s cheap shot on Eric Karros immediately made me think of Cliff Floyd‘s horrific injury, but Karros got a bit lucky. Fick was lucky in that he didn’t have to face a Kerry Wood fastball in his ear. There’s no place in baseball for that type of classless, injurious move, whether you agree with my thoughts on takeouts or not.
Back Tuesday with AL and NL Championship Series health previews.