When Carlos Quentin slammed his right hand on his bat after fouling off a pitch from Cliff Lee last week, he might have altered the course of baseball history.
AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast
Carlos Quentin was having one heck of a season until he wiped himself out of the pennant race.
By breaking his wrist, Quentin ended a banner year during which he racked up 36 homers, 100 RBIs and a .288 batting average/.394 on-base percentage/.571 slugging percentage line in his first full big league season. The injury also cost the Chicago White Sox their best player. With one split-second reaction, Quentin went from the American League MVP front runner to out of the race. And if his team goes on to blow its AL Central lead over the Minnesota Twins, Quentin's self-inflicted wound will be a big reason for his team's collapse.
Even with all that at stake, we probably shouldn't be too hard on the guy. Quentin's injury could qualify as boneheaded, but it doesn't even crack the honorable mention category on the All-Bizarre Injury Team. Quentin also is just the latest participant in a long-standing and unfortunate baseball tradition: star players getting hurt at the worst possible time, in the thick of a pennant race.
Many stretch-run injuries have turned out to be disasters for both the player and his team. Here are some of Page 2's favorites -- feel free to chime in with your own.
(Note: Both Vince Coleman's 1985 playoff tarp adventure and Bob Gibson's famous 1967 recovery from a broken leg to lead the Cardinals to a World Series title don't count. We're looking for pennant-race injuries only -- not later, not earlier.)
SPLITSVILLE: Lou Whitaker, 1988
A five-time All-Star, a four-time Silver Slugger and the 1978 AL Rookie of the Year, Lou Whitaker was an indispensable part of the Detroit Tigers' success in the 1980s. On Saturday, Sept. 3, 1988, Whitaker -- one of the top defensive second basemen in the game -- was forced to do the splits to pull off a move. But when he tried the same play twice, his knee popped -- torn cartilage, out for the season.
Did we mention Whitaker was dancing with his wife at a party at the time?
"'We were doing a fast dance, and I did the splits," he said about that fateful day 20 years ago. "The first time, nothing happened. The second time I went down, I heard it pop. When we left, very few people at the party knew I got hurt."
Ah, but the Tigers found out, in a painful way. They led the AL East by four games on Aug. 21. They still led by one game after the team lost its third straight on Sept. 3, just before Whitaker went down with a case of Saturday Night Fever. But Detroit went on to lose seven of its next eight games, dropping out of first place as Whitaker's replacement, Jim Walewander, struggled to hit his weight. The Tigers made a late charge the last week of that season but still fell short of first-place Boston by one game, ruining their shot at back-to-back division titles.
Whitaker was in the midst of one of his best seasons in 1988, hitting .275/.376/.419 and leading the team in second-half homers and RBIs before his injury. Some baseball analysts argue he was an underrated gem, a player who deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. Had he continued his big second half and led the Tigers to a second World Series title in five years, Whitaker might have been enshrined in Cooperstown by now. But now, who knows?
AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi
Milton Bradley struck a double whammy on the Padres last season.
TWO-FER: Milton Bradley (and Mike Cameron), 2007
For all the bluster over Rocktober, Matt Holliday and everything else that went Colorado's way down the stretch in 2007, the Padres deserve their own share of the credit. Trevor Hoffman's implosion in the Rockies-Padres one-game playoff notwithstanding, no Padre played a bigger role in ending San Diego's season than Milton Bradley.
Bradley repeatedly has gotten a bad rap over the course of his career, sometimes undeservedly so. But with the Padres holding a 2½-game lead with eight games left in the regular season last year, Bradley was at the center of two incidents that helped sink San Diego's season. Chasing after a fly ball, Bradley accidentally stepped on Mike Cameron's thumb, knocking the Padres' Gold Glove center fielder out for the year with a torn ligament. And later in that same game, Bradley tore his ACL and was lost for the season after umpire Mike Winters baited him into an argument that led to Bradley being restrained and hurting his knee.
Undermanned for the final week of the season, the Padres went 4-4 in their final eight games, allowing the Rockies to catch them and set up a one-game playoff. And Rocktober rolled on.
TO BE FAIR, THE WALL CALLED HIM THE SAME NAME MIKE WINTERS CALLED MILTON BRADLEY: Kevin Brown, 2004
Pushing the age of 40 and winding down a great career, Kevin Brown remained a valuable asset for the 2004 Yankees, going 10-6 with an adjusted ERA 10 percent better than the league average in his first 22 starts that year, while battling injuries. But it all came crashing down in Brown's first September start that year.
It wasn't a particularly bad start. Brown went six innings, striking out seven batters and yielding five hits, two walks and three runs. But whether it was Miguel Tejada's run-scoring single in the sixth inning for Baltimore's third run, the Yankees' lack of run support (they went on to lose the game) or just Brown's always cheerful demeanor, the big righty snapped. He reared back and punched the clubhouse wall with his left hand, causing multiple fractures, including one that extended to his wrist.
Yankees manager Joe Torre tried to put a positive spin on the incident.
"For certain, I'm happy it's the left and not the right," Torre said. "The thing that bothers me is that he thought enough to throw the left and not the right. I wish he would have thought a little more on that subject."
Translation: Thanks for thinking of your teammates when you punched that wall, Kev.
The Yankees still went on to win 101 games and the AL East title, with Brown missing the rest of the regular season. After knocking out the Twins in an AL Division Series, New York hooked up with Boston in the battle for the pennant, with Brown back in the rotation. Dave Roberts, David Ortiz and a host of other Red Sox players have gotten credit for Boston's historic comeback. But the Yankees' Game 7 starter did more than his fair share.
Whether it was pain from his broken hand, the rust racked up while he sat on the DL or just a lousy day, Brown got destroyed in Game 7, coughing up five runs and lasting just 1 1/3 innings. If not for Brown's blowup, a generation of Red Sox fans might still be waiting to die in peace.
A DECENT PLAN B MIGHT HAVE HELPED
Thanks to "Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Blunders," we have a rich collection of stories detailing how some late-season injuries, combined with poor roster construction and iffy managerial decisions, helped cost several teams a shot at a championship.
Some of the most costly injuries (and worst blunders) include:
• Dwight Evans, 1978
Known early in his career for his unusual batting stance, Evans paid the price during the '78 pennant race, suffering a beaning so severe he came down with a case of vertigo. But then Boston manager Don Zimmer put Evans back into the Red Sox lineup after just a few days' absence, despite the fact that his star right fielder clearly was unfit to play. Dewey went just 6-for-39 the rest of the way.
The Red Sox blew a 7½-game lead in the final five weeks of the regular season, setting up a one-game playoff with the Yankees for all the marbles. Bucky Dent's homer over the Green Monster in the tiebreaker still gets the blame for that season's heartbreak, but Zim might have been just as responsible.
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
You may not remember, but the Angels dearly missed Gary DiSarcina in 1995.
• Gary DiSarcina, 1995
DiSarcina wasn't nearly the player Evans was. The Angels shortstop had such a terrible batting eye that Baseball Prospectus named the longest streak by a hitter without a walk every season the DiSar Award, whereas Evans might have a better Hall of Fame case than his overhyped former teammate Jim Rice.
Still, DiSarcina was having a career year through the first four-plus months of the '95 season, hitting .307 and earning the only All-Star berth of his career. Then, an early August injury cost him all but the last 10 games of the year. DiSarcina's replacements, Spike Owen and Damion Easley, were awful (especially Owen). Although we can't lay all the blame on coming up short at short, the Angels did go from having an 11-game AL West lead on Aug. 3, the day DiSarcina got hurt, to coughing it all up and eventually losing a one-game playoff to the Mariners.
It's not often a player hits five homers and plays in just 99 games, yet finishes in the top 20 in league MVP voting. But coincidence or not, the Angels never were the same in '95 after DiSar went down.
• Trevor Wilson and Bud Black, 1993
This was another playoff race decided by the slimmest of margins -- and, depending on your point of view, either the best or the worst argument for the wild card in baseball.
The Giants held a commanding 9½-game lead in the National League West on Aug. 7, 1993, and looked poised to cruise home with the division title. But a slump and a surge by the chasing Braves pulled the two teams into a dead heat on the penultimate day of the season, with both at 103-58. Late-season injuries to Trevor Wilson and Bud Black -- two of the Giants' top four starting pitchers -- forced manager Dusty Baker to get creative with his rotation down the stretch. Baker sent 21-year-old rookie Salomon Torres to the mound for the final game of the regular season, on three days' rest. Torres didn't make it out of the fourth inning, the Giants got shelled 12-1 and that was that.
• Coming off an MVP award and in the midst of another great season, Brewers closer and eventual Hall of Famer Rollie Fingers missed most of September and all the playoffs in 1982. The Brewers still made it to the World Series that year, only to lose to the Cardinals. With Fingers unavailable, two men on base and the game tied in Game 2 of the Series, the Brewers turned to Pete Ladd, a big righty with 30 innings of regular-season major league experience. Ladd walked in the eventual winning run, and the Brewers went on to lose in seven games.
Ronald C. Modra/Sports Imagery/Getty Images
Bob Horner was off to a blazing start in 1983, before breaking his wrist.
• The Blue Jays suffered one of the worst late-season collapses in baseball history in 1987. Up 3½ games with a week left in the season, Toronto dropped its last seven, allowing the Tigers to roar past it and win the AL East. Two key injuries helped seal the Jays' fate: First, shortstop Tony Fernandez fractured his elbow when Detroit's Bill Madlock tried to break up a double play with a hard slide. Then, catcher Ernie Whitt broke his ribs trying to break up a double play of his own. Toronto's George Bell still won an ill-begotten MVP award that year, but that was cold comfort to Jays fans who watched their team's playoff hopes go up in smoke.
• Atlanta Braves third baseman Bob Horner was tearing up the NL through the first four and a half months of the 1983 season, hitting .303/.383/.528 with 20 homers. But after breaking his wrist on Aug. 15 that year, the Braves went into a tailspin. Atlanta won just 17 of its final 44 games, turning a 5½-game lead into a second-place finish, three games behind the NL West-winning Dodgers.
• The Cardinals have had more than their share of nasty late-season injuries. St. Louis was in first place in August 1941, only to fall short after outfielders Enos Slaughter and Terry Moore got hurt. Jack Clark was the best hitter in the NL in 1987 (.286/.459/.597) before a late-season injury limited him to just three pinch-hit appearances after Sept. 9. Clark managed just one World Series at-bat as the Cardinals fell in seven games to the upstart Twins. Things turned out better in 2006, when a late-season injury to closer Jason Isringhausen forced the Cardinals to turn to a 25-year-old rookie in the hot glare of the postseason. Adam Wainwright's hammer curve was a staple of St. Louis' unlikely playoff run as the 83-78 Cards went on to win it all.
Jonah Keri is a regular contributor to Page 2 and the editor and co-author of "Baseball Between the Numbers." You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.