Jimmy Rollins lashed a 92-m.p.h. fastball to right field, and he thought triple the moment the ball landed. He raced around the bases in the fourth inning of the 143d game in a forgettable season. A half-empty stadium buzzed when Rollins struck second base at full speed; that is when his left hamstring hurt.
Rollins beat the throw to third with ease. The Phillies shortstop grimaced as he popped to his feet. And after he scored on a Ryan Howard single, he was removed from Monday's 6-4 loss to the Pirates.
He will miss at least 10 days with a strained hamstring. The exact severity will be revealed by a ultrasound exam on Tuesday. Leg injuries are the most common in baseball; Rollins missed 17 days in 2010 with a hamstring strain. With 20 days left, it is realistic to wonder if Rollins' season is over.
"That's just a target," Rollins said of the 10-day prediction. When asked if he may not return in 2014, Rollins said, "It isn't that severe."
The Phillies lost when the game unraveled in the eighth inning. Manager Ryne Sandberg allowed Kyle Kendrick to start the inning at 111 pitches. The Pirates scored four more runs - three charged to Kendrick, who allowed singles to the three batters he faced - to pad their 2-1 lead.
"He had a real good seventh inning, and he was an option for righthanders," Sandberg said of Kendrick. "A little tough luck to start the eighth on the swinging bunt and a couple of hits."
Rollins, a constant presence atop Sandberg's lineup, will never escape his critics. But his season, as a 35-year-old shortstop, is laudable.
His offensive numbers are a little above the league average. When compared with fellow shortstops, they are better. Rollins' .717 OPS ranks seventh among 22 major-league shortstops with enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title. His 28 stolen bases tie Kansas City's Alcides Escobar for most by a shortstop. His 17 homers rank third among all shortstops.
There are three shortstops 35 or older since 1900 with more homers in a season than Rollins: Cal Ripken (1996), Eddie Joost (1951, 1952) and Derek Jeter (2009).
His steady defense, though, could be Rollins' most impressive quality. He still plays an above-average shortstop. Advanced defensive metrics remain crude and are sometimes inaccurate measurements. The wins above replacement (WAR) stat, which has a defensive component to its formula, is favorable to Rollins. His 3.3 WAR, according to FanGraphs.com, ranked fourth among all shortstops entering play Monday.
"He's played outstanding defense," Sandberg said. "His arm had improved over last year, his arm strength. He's been very durable. He's made the routine play. He's been a good base runner. I'd say overall he's really done a good job on the offensive side of things, being a spark at the top."
Rollins will return in 2015 at $11 million because his fourth-year option triggered earlier this season. That could provide a natural buffer for J.P. Crawford, the team's 19-year-old top prospect. Crawford may arrive sometime in 2016.
The Phillies, if needed, could use the final three weeks this season for further intelligence on Freddy Galvis and Cesar Hernandez. Both players are out of options next season. Galvis, who replaced Rollins on Monday, is considered better with the glove, while Hernandez's bat draws more praise from scouts. Both are 24 years old. Both are switch-hitters.
Hernandez pinch-hit for Galvis in the eighth Monday and hit a sacrifice fly.
For Kendrick, who contributed his best effort of the season in his last start at Atlanta, this night brought avoidable disappointment. He tied a career high with eight strikeouts in seven innings and held Pittsburgh to two runs on one mistake, a two-run blast by Starling Marte.
But Sandberg wanted more from his starter, and the Pirates struck.