Losing Edwin Diaz is crushing for Mets, but don’t blame WBC
USA TODAY Sports’ Bob Nightengale breaks down the Edwin Diaz injury and why players have told him that they don’t blame the World Baseball Classic for the freak accident.
SportsPulse, USA TODAY
MIAMI — The game had been over for an hour late Friday evening when pitcher Alexis Diaz walked out of the Puerto Rico clubhouse, his head down after their 5-4 defeat to Mexico, trying to keep his composure.
He was trying to fathom how a beautiful dream just 48 hours ago could turn into a horrifying nightmare.
It was just Wednesday night, on this same field at loanDepot Park, when Puerto Rico defeated the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic, one of the greatest triumphs in its proud baseball history.
Edwin Diaz, Alexis’ big brother, had just struck out the side in the ninth, and was jumping up and down in jubilation. Alexis and his teammates rushed over. They jumped into his arms, and began celebrated one of the most beautiful nights of their lives.
It was the first time the two brothers had ever played together on the same professional baseball field, and now they were experiencing the same euphoria together.
Seconds later, Edwin Diaz collapsed to the ground, screaming in pain, his right knee buckling. Alexis stood off to the side, tears streaming down his face, watching his brother leave the field in a wheelchair.
Now, with his brother undergoing season-ending knee surgery, Diaz entered the game in the seventh inning Friday, asked to protect a 4-2 lead.
Austin Barnes greeted him with a double. Randy Arozarena walked. Alex Verdugo walked.
Puerto Rico manager Yadier Molina rushed to the mound to take Diaz out of the game, but the damage was already done. He sat on the bench and watched Isaac Peredes hit a two-out, two-run single off Jorge Lopez to tie the game, and then Luis Urias hit a go-ahead run-scoring single.
Just like that, it was over.
Mexico was advancing to the WBC semifinals for the first time in the country’s greatest baseball victory, Puerto Rico’s WBC title hopes were over, and Diaz was making plans to catch a flight back to Arizona to the Cincinnati Reds’ spring training camp.
Baseball, man, can it be cruel.
“It’s been really painful, honestly, the past couple of days,’’ Diaz said. “I wanted to be out there with my brother, especially with what happened to him.’’
Diaz paused, collected himself, and said: “But I’m a warrior. I have a heart of a warrior. I’m going to do my best to have a great season and keep it going.’’
Diaz’s teammates consoled him. He talked to his brother. Everyone offered the same advice.
“My teammates just told me it’s part of the game, don’t keep my head down,’’ Diaz said, “just keep doing what I’m doing.’’
And big brother’s words?
“He said to just block out the outside noise,’’ Diaz said, “just keep focusing on myself. These are things that happen in the game. …
“He went though a similar situation in 2019.’’
That was Edwin’s first season with the Mets, after being traded from the Seattle Mariners, and he went 2-7 with a 5.59 ERA, and was nearly booed out of New York. Today, he’s considered the most dominant closer in the game.
Perhaps it would have all been different if Edwin Diaz never got hurt –
but Alexis argued that he was emotionally fine.
“I felt calm in that moment,” Diaz said, “I felt comfortable with my mechanics. It’s just things that happened during the game.’’
Diaz will now have a long flight back to Arizona, still believing that the WBC will make him a better pitcher, perhaps even a stronger one mentally.
“I learned a lot of valuable lessons from this experience,’’ he said. “I’m someone who is pretty inexperienced in my professional career. It’s something I’m going to take with me moving forward throughout my career. …
“I just want to let kids know whenever you face adversity, keep going, and don’t back down. Keep doing what you’re doing, trust the process, and good things will happen.’’
Certainly, Mexico is a testament to that resilience in this tournament. They lost the first game in a stunning upset to Colombia. Yet, one day later, they knocked off Team USA, hung onto to beat Great Britain, and powered past Canada to win the Pool C in Phoenix.
“The most important game of most of those guys’ lives, mine included, is tonight,” Mexico manager Benji Gil said before the game. “God willing we win tonight, then after the game, more than likely a few tequilas, maybe a beer.’’
Mexico fell behind 4-0 in the first inning with ace Julio Urias, but then shut down Puerto Rico on just four hits after the Dodgers’ left-hander departed.
“The adjustment was not giving up, continue looking forward,’’ Gil said, “no matter how hard the hit was. One hero I had, the idol in sports in Mexico is [boxer] Julio Cesar Chavez. And in 1990, he was losing versus [Meldrick] Taylor and he continued fighting, fighting, fighting, fighting, and he ended up winning that fight.
“Julio Cesar Chavez is a great friend of mine. He sent many messages supporting the team. I was thinking about him. The Mexican team will never give up if we have other Mexican warriors that never gave up.’’
Now, here they are, just two victories away from stunning the world, and winning its first WBC.
“The most important thing, in my opinion, is that we are showing what Mexican players are capable of at the highest level,’’ Gil said. “It’s a blessing to be able to be part of this, and to have a little piece by guiding them, by leading them as Mexican warriors.’’
Their next game is Monday night against heavily-favored Japan.
Julio Cesar Chavez will be watching.
Follow Nightengale on Twitter: @Bnightengale