There’s loss and then there’s loss, all of which is relative.
In Washington, the Nationals and fans are lamenting the knee injury that ended catcher Wilson Ramos’ season.
In Miami and throughout baseball, folks are in mourning after a boating accident ended pitcher Jose Fernandez’s life.
Fretting about the impact of Ramos’ absence as the Nats enter the postseason is put in perspective when compared to the suffering in Miami, where teammates, fans and a pregnant girlfriend are steeling themselves for a final goodbye. The stark contrast adds weight to the words spoken by Washington manager Dusty Baker after Ramos was declared out for the playoffs.
“Nobody is going to feel sorry for us,” he told reporters. “We’ve just got to next man up.”
Sometimes it’s hard to not feel sorry for yourself when circumstances conspire against you. Losing the woe-is-me feeling is easier when a real tragedy occurs and breaks up your pity party.
But in the not-grand scheme of things, what happened to the Nats catcher stinks.
About a month away from hitting free agency, where he’d command way more than the Nats’ reported offer of $30 million for three years, Ramos finally was enjoying good fortune. No one deserved it more.
Baseball is renowned for quirky lists of odd feats and facts and Ramos has a category to himself: He’s the only player to be kidnapped after his rookie season (2011), suffer a major knee injury early in his sophomore season (2012) and suffer a broken wrist on Opening Day in his fourth season (2014) – only to overcome the adversity and become an All-Star in his sixth season (2016).
This year made the past travails seem worthwhile. Ramos emerged as one of the game’s best-hitting catchers and became a poster boy for Lasik surgery, using his new-and-improved vision to bat .307 with 22 homers, 80 RBI and an on base-plus slugging percentage of .850. His walks were up (from 21 last season to 35 this season) and his strikeouts were down (101 to 79).
He couldn’t time his breakout campaign any better, as the prospect of five-year offers worth $60 million or so danced into view. Now headed into his age-30 season, coming off a torn ACL in the same right knee that previously housed a severed ACL plus MCL, Wilson potentially has lost millions of dollars in earning power.
As a team, the Nats have lost a booming bat not easily replaced in the heart of the order.
That outcome is bad enough without the concerns about second baseman Daniel Murphy (strained buttocks), outfielder Bryce Harper (thumb) and pitcher Stephen Strasburg (strained flexor mass). Four of the Nats five All-Stars will be out or questionable entering the National League Division Series.
“Now it’s up to some of the other guys to take us to the next level and then the next level after that,” Baker said.
The team has no choice but at least those guys have a chance.
They have an opportunity to play and perhaps make a difference for the star-crossed Nats. As painful as the previous trips were, Washington has reached the postseason for the third time in five years. And we’re talking Division Series playoffs, not the do-or-die Wild Card playoff that to the losers is simply a one-game extension of the regular season.
Baker is correct in his assessment that neither the Los Angeles Dodgers nor any other opponent will have compassion for the shorthanded Nats. Too many teams have overcome injuries and been propelled by unexpected contributors. A hot pitcher and a couple of hot batters – or some well-timed productivity at the plate – is all that’s necessary for an underdog to send a favorite home early.
At full strength, the Nats were the Chicago Cubs’ biggest threats. Without Ramos and healthy key players elsewhere in the lineup and rotation, Washington’s odds of reaching the World Series – or even advancing to the National League Championship Series – have grown longer.
That’s not ideal. But the situation could be much worse.
At least postseason baseball will return to D.C. once again, when we once wondered if baseball would return at all. Bunting will be hung and special patches will be added to players’ caps. NLDS logos will emblazon the field and fall excitement will hang in the air. Twenty-six other baseball stadiums will be dark. But lights will blaze at the ballpark on South Capitol Street.
The playoffs will go without Ramos.
Life will go on without Fernandez, too.
But the absence of Florida’s ace pitcher helps us realize what’s really important.
It also should help us cherish the moments and enjoy whatever happens next for the Nationals. Even without their All-Star catcher.