Forty-four minutes after he crumpled to the ground, Ryan Howard hobbled through a morose Phillies clubhouse. He was still wearing his jersey, but his left pant leg was rolled up to his knee. He couldn't put his jeans on standing up, and socks and shoes were an inconvenience.
Cameras swarmed as Howard finished dressing. The hulking first baseman felt it was necessary to stand when addressing the team's ultimate failure. A year ago, after leaving his 34-ounce bat on his shoulder on the season's final pitch, he reacted with anger. On Friday, Howard was in a state of disbelief after his team's 1-0 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 5 of the National League division series.
"You don't want to be a part of that," Howard said about making the final out of the season.
The Phillies said an MRI exam Saturday revealed a ruptured Achilles tendon that will require surgery once swelling reduces near the injury. The team said there is no guarantee he'll be ready for spring training.
Howard could miss anywhere from six to nine months. It could be more; it could be less. The possibility of Howard's starting his five-year, $125 million contract extension on the disabled list is very real. Even if he does return sooner rather than later, a catastrophic injury is no way to commence a lucrative contract.
Howard's injury only complicates what will be a fascinating winter for the Phillies. There are decisions to be made on Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Madson, and Roy Oswalt. Raul Ibanez and Brad Lidge played a combined seven seasons with the Phillies but could be elsewhere in 2012. Cole Hamels is due a long-term extension. An entire bench must be reconstructed. The bullpen is teeming with young promise but could use veteran reassurance.
Come opening day, the Phillies may have different starters at first base, shortstop, third base, and left field than they did in Game 5.
Baseball's oldest team must find a way to get younger, a task that is easier said than done. One day after a depressing defeat in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series a year ago, Amaro promised to prioritize youth. The only position, ultimately, that became younger was right field - split by Ben Francisco, Domonic Brown, and Hunter Pence.
The Phillies have $107 million invested in nine players for 2012. That makes a large-scale retooling of the roster difficult. But there will be moves.
Not including Hamels, whom the Phils will likely keep, 10 players from the postseason roster - Rollins, Madson, Oswalt, Ibanez, Lidge, Brian Schneider, Ross Gload, Kyle Kendrick, Francisco, and Wilson Valdez - are not guaranteed contracts for next season. Decisions will need to be made.
Much will hinge on the free agency of Rollins and Madson. If a youth infusion is the priority, the Phillies will have to weigh the proper length of a Rollins contract. The longtime shortstop turns 33 next month. Age affects not only production, but also health.
For years, Howard was a very durable player - one of the best in baseball - but is now afflicted with significant knee, ankle, and foot problems. Howard has taken great care of his body. But he went on the disabled list last season with a severe left ankle sprain. He played through bursitis in his left ankle during the final month of this season until his Achilles tendon popped in the ninth inning of Game 5.
"I think it might have been one of those freak things," Howard said.
Was there risk in playing on the original injury?
"It's the playoffs, man," Howard said.
He stood in front of his locker uttering the same phrase - "It sucks" - again and again. In the end, Howard could not leave the field under his own power. His teammates watched the Cardinals celebrate and Howard writhe in pain.
"That's very difficult," Ibanez said. "You're crushed that we just lost. But at the same time, it's important that he's OK. [Howard's left ankle has] been beat up for a while. I don't know the extent, but it looked like it finally gave out."
So did the season. And only now do the questions begin.
Injury updates. Hamels will have surgery on Friday to remove loose bodies from his left elbow. He'll have hernia surgery a week later. . . . Pence and Placido Polanco will have MRI exams to evaluate their sports hernias. . . . Gload likely will undergo arthroscopic hip surgery. He'll be examined by orthopedic surgeon Bryan Kelly.
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