Edwin Diaz’s knee injury is latest strike against WBC

For a couple of hours inside the normally desolate baseball grounds of loanDepot Park, those among us who have long decried the World Baseball Classic as a meaningless and unnecessary bazaar were watching, and listening, to a compelling piece of rebuttal testimony.

For a couple of hours at the site of the old Orange Bowl, in the section of Miami known as Little Havana, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic played a tense, emotional game in front of 36,025 fans who filled loanDepot to 96 percent capacity.

In the bottom of the ninth, with Puerto Rico holding a 5-2 lead, Edwin Diaz came trotting into the game and it looked like most of the 61 games he appeared in a year ago with the Mets: he faced three batters and he struck out three batters. It clinched a spot in the WBC quarterfinals for Puerto Rico and it was electric inside the ballpark.

Until it grew deathly, desperately silent.

Until a few of the Puerto Rican players began waving frantically toward the team’s medical staff and then a most horrifying site was revealed: Diaz, one of the foundations for both Puerto Rico and the Mets, was on the ground and his right leg was limp. His brother, Alexis, who pitches for the Reds, was weeping. Diaz tried to walk under his own power, couldn’t. He tried to leave the field supported by two teammates, and couldn’t; a wheelchair was summoned for him.

Edwin Diaz
Puerto Rico pitcher Edwin Diaz (39) is helped by team pitching coach Ricky Bones and medical staff after a World Baseball Classic game against the Dominican Republic.

And in an instant …

In an instant the Mets were suddenly thrown into turmoil, hoping for the best but bracing for the worst, wondering if they had lost their freshly re-signed, $102 million closer for the season.

And in the next instance, the jaded skepticism that has long surrounded the WBC rested its case. Diaz is not the first athlete to get hurt during the WBC. Mark Teixeira hurt his wrist back in 2013, missed all but 15 games that season and was never quite the same player the rest of his career. Freddie Freeman pulled himself out of the WBC Tuesday night when he hurt his hamstring playing for Team Canada, choosing to return to the Dodgers.

Look, players can get hurt anywhere, anytime. They can just as easily get hurt playing Grapefruit and Cactus League games. But the fact has always been that the WBC asks participants to play at midsummer intensity at a time when they’re still used to running wind sprints in the outfield after brief five-inning tune-up cameos. And in truth, all the precaution in the world is useless when a player slips into a uniform with his home nation’s name on the front. That’s just human nature.

But the hard truth is this:

While representing one’s county is a fine and respectable thing, it is a player’s MLB team that lays out and pays out for their services. The WBC has tried, every few years, to honor its mission of growing the game, and there are places — like the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico — where these games matter deeply. It was impossible not to see that Wednesday night at loanDepot Park.

Edwin Diaz of Team Puerto Rico leaves the field in a wheelchair after sustaining an injury while celebrating a 5-2 win against Team Dominican Republic during their World Baseball Classic game.
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Puerto Rico relief pitcher Edwin Diaz looks on while sitting on the field after suffering a leg injury during the team celebration.

That is of little consolation to the Mets right now. Diaz is a fundamental and essential part of the Mets’ makeup. His 2022 was one of the great individual performances in team history and he was their No. 1 offseason priority, earning that record deal. That’s what was so surreal. The familiar brass of Timmy Trumpet accompanied Diaz in from the bullpen. He struck out the side. A celebration ensued.

And seconds later a baseball season was toppled upside down. And fairly it not, the WBC is going to have to answer for that.