M’s must go on without Moyer

  • Larry Henry / Sports Columnist
  • Sunday, October 8, 2000 9:00pm
  • Sports

SEATTLE – Tears welled up in his eyes.

Minutes later, they spilled out.

The anguish of a season lost finally got to Jamie Moyer, the dandy little left-hander of the Seattle Mariners.

Two days before, he had stood in the middle of the clubhouse, smoking a cigar to celebrate the M’s clinching the American League Division Series.

Sunday afternoon, he stood at his locker speaking to reporters, no cigars, no champagne, no smiles, just a very solemn man trying to come to grips with a freak injury that had ended his postseason.

After the media herd dispersed, pitching coach Bryan Price walked over to Moyer. They spoke briefly, then embraced and that’s when his emotions got the best of Jamie Moyer.

Not long before, he learned that he had sustained a fractured kneecap when hit by a batted ball during a simulated game Saturday at Safeco Field. “It was sore, very sore,” Moyer said.

But he never imagined it was as serious as it turned out to be. “I just assumed in a day or two I’d be back,” he said.

Sunday, however, X-rays revealed a hairline fracture of the left kneecap. Though the injury doesn’t appear to be career-threatening, it does end his postseason before it ever got started.

Moyer had been held out of the Division Series, but was to start Game 4 of the championship series, which begins Tuesday night in New York against the Yankees. Now Paul Abbott will replace him.

There is some awful irony in all of this.

Moyer was tuning up for his first start since Sept. 28, when he lasted only 1 2/3innings in a 13-6 loss to Texas, creating the suspicion that he might be injured because he had also been roughed up in his previous start. He emphatically denied this. Price said it was some mechanical flaws that needed to be ironed out.

Saturday, Moyer threw 50 pitches in the bullpen, then went to the mound to face live hitters – Chris Widger, Charles Gipson and Brian Lesher, all non-roster players who had volunteered to come out on an off day for the rest of the team. Moyer was to throw 60 more pitches. He threw 61.

On the 61st pitch, Widger hit a ball that skipped off the wet morning grass and smashed into Moyer’s left knee. He had wanted to throw one more changeup to a left-hander. More irony. Widger is a right-hander, but he switched sides this time.

“I feel bad,” Widger said. “He’s one of the reasons this team got where it is. When something like this happens at 10:30 on an off day, it’s a freak.”

Freak or not, you can imagine what this did to Moyer.

He’s a month shy of his 38th birthday. In his only other postseason appearance, the divisional playoffs in 1997, he had to leave the game in the fifth inning with a strained left elbow. When you get to this point in your career, you wonder how many more playoff opportunities you’ll have.

What makes this even harder to take is that it’s the second time Moyer’s been injured this year. Isn’t there a limit on these things?

Early in the season, he was out for more than a month with a strained muscle in his pitching shoulder. He came back to post a 13-10 record, giving him a five-year record of 65-34 with the M’s.

Until his final pitch Saturday, Moyer felt that he was back in his good form. “I was very optimistic,” he said. “I was happy the way I threw the ball. I was trying to prepare for what might happen down the road.”

Then – bang!

“Frustrating, very frustrating,” he said. “But, you know what? I’m not going to be able to contribute on the field so the biggest thing for me is to be able to contribute as a teammate in any way I can – paying attention, watching the game, watching hitters, trying to help guys prepare for games, things like that.”

Then he let a little humor creep into this otherwise sad day. “I’ll be a cheerleader,” he said, “all but putting the skirt on.”

That’s Jamie Moyer. A plucky competitor on the days he pitches, a solid teammate on the days he doesn’t. He’s got a headful of knowledge and he’s willing to share it with his fellow pitchers.

One thing he doesn’t want is for this to be a distraction.

“I want us to go out and continue to play the way we’re playing,” he insisted. “To me, that’s the most important thing. I never want to put myself in front of the team in any situation. We’ve got something pretty special going right now.”

Only No. 50 won’t be able to take part in it.

And that’s sad, very sad.

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