MIAMI – Edwin Diaz punched Puerto Rico’s ticket to the quarterfinals of the World Baseball Classic by striking out Teoscar Hernandez. His team erupted from the visiting dugout at Lone Depot Park, buoyed by their stunning 5-2 knockout victory over rivals the Dominican Republic. Diaz was immediately surrounded by his teammates, all huddled near the pitcher’s mound. In the dugout, the coaching staff swarmed manager Yadier Molina, who jumped up and down as they celebrated one of the biggest losses in the history of the tournament.
But within seconds the scene turned from cheering to horror.
A strange commotion began to stir, something horribly wrong. The players on the field were still surrounding Diaz, arguably the best closer in baseball and a vital figure on a Mets team with aspirations of winning the World Series. But the victory circle has turned into a worry circle. Many players began rushing to the coaching staff.
Diaz sat upright on the infield grass, his right leg stretched out and unable to move. Both teams stood motionless as medical personnel descended on the field. Some players held their arms above their heads, while others slumped over their shoulders. Diaz’s brother, Alexis, began to cry.
Minutes later, Diaz was wheeled off the field in a wheelchair. He raised his fist to the Puerto Rican fans in the crowd, which had been electric for nine innings, but had now become much quieter. Díaz fired the side in the bottom of the ninth, eliminating the tournament favorites and sending Puerto Rico into the next round, despite being considerable underdogs. He won the game, but at what cost?
The Mets described Diaz’s condition as a “right knee injury.” One person said it was the result of a clash at the celebration Athletic. Diyas will undergo further tests on Thursday. Although the severity of the injury is still unknown, it sent shock waves throughout the game. That included a trip across the country to Phoenix, where many of Diaz’s Mets teammates were in uniform Wednesday for Team USA’s quarterfinal win over Colombia.
“I feel terrible for him,” Mets first baseman Pete Alonso said after the game. “He’s worked really hard to get to where he is. He’s worked incredibly hard and reinvented himself, but he was an absolute force last year. To get to where he was was incredible. He’s a very hard worker and he’s a great team player. I am disappointed for him and we are definitely going to miss him.
Meanwhile, the scenes around Lone Depot Park in Miami indicate the seriousness of the situation. After the game, as team managers and key players both participated in news conferences, several Puerto Rico employees paced the hallways outside the clubhouse, many wiping away tears. One was Alexis Diaz, who was as distraught as he was on the field.
“It sucks,” Molina said. “When you see a guy who works as hard as Edwin, it’s sad when you see him on the floor.”
Enrique Hernandez was not part of the opening celebration as he was joined by Eddie Rosario and MJ. But it didn’t take long for one of the team’s flamboyant leaders to realize something was wrong.
“Besides being so close to the game right now and being a big part of this team, Sugar is one of the glue guys in that clubhouse,” Hernandez said. “He’s the lead in organizing parties for us in Fort Myers, to start getting together as a group and have a good time and get to know guys who don’t know each other. And here, he’s one of the guys who organized the big party we had last night. He’s a guy, I mean, I’m out there. Gonna put it, he has a really big bank account, but his heart is bigger than his bank account.
WBC made a big impression on the Mets team, sending many of its stars to participate. The effect was visible everywhere in the camp.
In early spring, with many players about to leave for the tournament, the team was busy going through defensive drills and reviewing the new rules. Over the past two weeks, Mets manager Buck Showalter has mentioned his phone calls with Team USA manager Mark DeRosa almost daily, and he’s talked about every possible quarterback situation with reporters. On Wednesday, as he watched his team take batting practice, he lamented that he still wanted to work on defense, but couldn’t until his infield returned.
A lack of preparation often feels like Showalter’s biggest fear, but that’s nothing compared to what was revealed in a celebratory pileup in Miami. Although the Mets allowed many of their players to play in the WBC, they were cautious. Outfielder Starling Marte watched the game from the seats behind home plate instead of in right field, where he might have played for the Dominican Republic.
With Diaz, the Mets had made it clear that he could not pitch on consecutive days, except for the final out of the tournament. Puerto Rico may still get there, but Diaz won’t be a part of it. He collapsed after the game and his job was done, fitting the brutal history of this Mets franchise.
The impact on the Mets of losing Diaz long-term cannot be overstated. Diaz returned to the club on a five-year, $102 million deal, the first part of the franchise’s offseason spending spree. He insisted on delivering the news personally to general manager Billy Eppler. In doing so, he willfully conceded to excessive expectations of a franchise that had remade itself.
“Okay, Billy, let’s do this,” Diaz told Eppler, joining the call from Puerto Rico. “Let’s roll. Now let’s win the World Series.
Diaz earned every bit of that contract in 2022, when he posted a 1.31 ERA with 32 saves in 61 appearances. He struck out 118 batters in 62 innings, capturing the extent of his dominance. He displayed that form again on Wednesday night, until the moment he hit the floor, stunning everyone in attendance.
“I hugged our coaches in the dugout,” Molina said. “And then when we looked up, Edwin was on the floor. I didn’t know. I didn’t know how to act, I didn’t know what to say.
The Mets pride themselves on their depth. No construction of depth can cover up the lack of anything close to Díaz’s caliber. If he misses significant time, New York players Adam Ottavino and David Robertson could share the end duties, though that would come at a cost. The repercussions would reverberate throughout the innings, weakening New York’s lineup.
“It’s pathetic,” Ottavino said. “I know what he means to Puerto Rico in that situation. I know what kind of kid he is, how hard he works. I know how much he cares and what it means to Puerto Rico and the Mets. It’s just sad for everybody. Other than that, I have no other emotion. No. I hope the best for him.
Diaz wasn’t even the Mets’ first injury of the tournament. Opener Jose Quintana was progressing to join Colombia when he suffered a fractured rib. He underwent surgery Friday and is out for the first three months of the season. Left-handed reliever Brooks suffered a hamstring injury while working out with Rally Team USA. He’s back in camp, hopefully still unsure if he’ll be ready for opening day.
Independent of the WBC, relievers Sam Kunrod and Bryce Montes de Oca, both pushed into an Opening Day roster spot with strong springs, have suffered injuries that put them in the IL to start the season.
All winter, Eppler stressed the importance of having five reliable late-game relievers. Diyas is the keystone of that project and without him the foundation is shaky.
“It’s really heartbreaking,” Alonso said. “He’s one of the big guys for us. It’s mind-blowing.”
— Athletic Zach Buchanan contributed to this report
(Edwin Diaz is carried off the field Photo: Eric Espada/Getty Images)