<
>

Cards outfielder's long-term prognosis 'undetermined'

ST. LOUIS -- St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Juan Encarnacion
will miss the remainder of the season and his career is in jeopardy
after sustaining multiple fractures of his left eye socket when
struck by a foul ball Friday night.

It was the latest blow in a star-crossed season for the
defending World Series champions, who somehow were 2½ games out of
first place in the NL Central entering Saturday night's game.

"This is a serious hit, career-threatening," manager Tony La
Russa said Saturday. "The other ones are not to be diminished,
like Carpenter's arm, but they're not in the same category. It's
like Josh."

The Cardinals have persevered through the death of reliever Josh Hancock, ace pitcher Chris Carpenter's season-ending elbow injury,
utilityman Scott Spiezio undergoing treatment for substance abuse
and manager Tony La Russa's DUI in spring training. Friday was a
double whammy with Scott Rolen placed on the 15-day disabled list
with a shoulder injury that likely will sideline him the rest of
the season, and then Encarnacion's frightening injury.

"We've been figuring a way to do it all year long," Albert Pujols said in a subdued clubhouse. "Nothing surprises us and we
keep battling the way we've battled all year long. That's the way
it goes."

The 31-year-old Encarnacion was hospitalized for continued
observation, evaluation and treatment. The team said in a statement
he would be re-evaluated daily and that the long-term prognosis was
"undetermined at this time."

Pujols kept Encarnacion company at the hospital until 3
a.m. Saturday and visited again before leaving for the ballpark for
a night game against the Reds. Aaron Miles, Joel Pineiro and Yadier Molina also spent several hours with their fallen teammate.

"Today he was in better spirits," Pujols said. "I didn't try
to talk too much about the injury, I was making sure he wasn't in
pain. They're taking care of him pretty good."

Encarnacion was struck while waiting in the on-deck circle in
the sixth inning of Friday's game against the Cincinnati Reds. He
was about to pinch hit and had no time to react when Miles was late
on an 0-1 outside pitch from left-hander Jon Coutlangus.

"It's a freak thing, and I just hope and pray that his eye is
OK and he'll be able to do everything and continue his career,"
Miles said Friday. "That's a scary thing."

Encarnacion was down for several minutes, flipping his helmet
off his head while blood dripped from his nose, before two trainers
assisted him off the field.

Teammates were shaken by the incident during an 8-5 victory
keyed by Rick Ankiel's first career grand slam later in the sixth.
Center fielder Jim Edmonds helped assist Encarnacion to the
clubhouse.

"It's about as bad as it gets as far as what you can see on a
baseball field," Edmonds said. "I think it's everybody's biggest
fear.

"That's why there's so many arguments and fights, over balls
being thrown up and in. It's scary."

The ball struck Encarnacion with enough force that it rolled
several feet in the opposite direction. After fouling off the
pitch, Miles looked over and saw that Encarnacion was down.

Encarnacion, who missed the first 1½ months recovering from
wrist surgery, hit .283 with nine homers and 47 RBIs. He had an
18-game hitting streak from May 30-June 18, and batted cleanup 35
times -- mostly against left-handed pitchers. Ankiel's emergence
last month along with a left knee injury had cut into his playing
time.

"He's an important member of our team," La Russa said. "You
can't diminish that."

It's the second serious facial injury of Encarnacion's career.
In 1999, his rookie season with the Tigers, he was hit in the face
by a pitch from the Royals' Blake Stein and suffered a fractured
left cheekbone and broken nose.

Ankiel narrowly missed getting struck by a foul ball during his
at-bat in the eighth when David Eckstein swung late on a pitch.

In an effort to minimize the possibility of another such injury,
La Russa said he'll move the on-deck circle closer to the screen
behind home plate and as close to directly behind the plate as
umpires and opposing pitchers will allow, but knows there's no 100
percent safe spot.

"The fans are at risk, too, the closer they are to the
action," La Russa said. "Everybody likes it, there's just not a
lot of time to react. It's just part of the deal, the enhanced
experience."

Pujols watched a photographer narrowly miss getting struck in
the head by a foul ball during Friday night's game, the ball
striking just inches away.

"Hopefully it wakes the fans up, too," Pujols said. "They
think they're invisible and they can't get hit by a ball, so maybe
they'll be paying better attention."