ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — Game-winning home runs followed by wild celebrations at home plate make for great theater and provide clips worthy of replays galore.
Sometimes, that unbridled glee comes at a cost.
Just ask Kendry Morales of the Los Angeles Angels, whose game-ending grand slam Saturday night left him unable to walk off the field. Morales broke his leg while leaping onto home plate and being smothered by his delirious teammates, the emotions getting the better of them.
“It wasn’t a fun night. It’s sickening to lose a player the way we lost Kendry. And it’s not going to happen again here,” said Angels manager Mike Scioscia, who learned the hard way that moderation in these celebrations might be a more prudent idea.
“It’s an emotional game, and when you win like that, it’s so exhilarating when you get caught up in the moment,” Scioscia acknowledged. “But we need to do a better job than to get hurt in a dogpile scenario celebrating a win. Yesterday’s event was terrible.”
Scioscia met with his players during a closed-door meeting before Sunday’s game and laid down the rules. It took less than 6 hours to put them to the test, as Howie Kendrick hit a game-ending, three-run homer in the ninth against the Mariners in a 9-7 victory.
“Fortunately, we got through this celebration unscathed,” Scioscia said.
Kendrick had a clear path and touched home plate without a jump as his jubilant teammates ran on the field and kept a safe distance from the foul line before mobbing him.
“I wasn’t thinking about the celebration when I was rounding the bases. I was just thinking that we won the ballgame,” Kendrick said. “I just wanted to get to home plate so we could celebrate. It was awesome. I wouldn’t say it was strange, but it was safe. And if that’s going to keep guys from getting hurt, I’m all for it.”
Morales may not play again for a long while, but Scioscia emphasized it wasn’t a season-ending injury for the 26-year-old first baseman, based on what the club has been told. Morales was scheduled to undergo surgery Sunday, but doctors decided to wait until swelling subsides.
Utility first baseman Robb Quinlan was recalled from Triple-A Salt Lake to fill Morales’ roster spot, but Sunday’s lineup card had catcher Mike Napoli at first base — a position he had never played in the big leagues.
Scioscia said Morales’ injury was an accident waiting to happen, but it didn’t have to — an opinion echoed by hitting coach Mickey Hatcher.
“He’s 200-something pounds, and there’s no reason why he should have leaped in the air,” Hatcher said. “That plate is always slippery, and you don’t know what you’re going to get.
“I mean, look at Roy Halladay last night after he pitched the perfect game. They were all over him, so how do you know he wasn’t going to sprain his ankle with all those legs and stuff around him? But that’s just the nature of the game,” Hatcher added. “How do you take away those celebrations? I don’t know, but I think you need to tone it down some.”
Baseball has witnessed countless memorable scenes involving teammates eagerly waiting at home plate to pounce on the conquering hero. Arguably, the most famous was Bobby Thomson’s pennant-winning homer for the New York Giants against Ralph Branca of the Brooklyn Dodgers.
There have been others: Bill Mazeroski, Carlton Fisk, Joe Carter, Kirk Gibson, Ozzie Smith, Aaron Boone and Steve Finley. Chris Chambliss never even made it to home plate after his ALCS-clinching homer for the Yankees against Kansas City’s Mark Littell in 1976 because of the thousands of fans who ran onto the field and forced him to take a detour to the dugout after rounding third base.
“I don’t think we can, as managers, just sit and say, ‘Hey everybody go sit in the dugout, wait until the guy scores.’ It’s an emotional time,” Cleveland manager Manny Acta said. “It has become part of the game, the way it has evolved. It’s just heading in the wrong direction and it’s just too bad it happened to this kid.”
Then there was Robin Ventura of the Mets, who ended Game 5 of the 1999 NLCS at Shea Stadium with a drive over the fence against Atlanta’s Kevin McGlinchy in the 15th inning with the bases loaded — and was credited with a grand-slam single after he was intercepted by teammate Todd Pratt between first and second base and spirited off the field by a swarm of teammates.
Perhaps the most inventive celebration was choreographed by the Milwaukee Brewers last September, when Prince Fielder’s teammates all fell down in unison at home plate after he finished circling the bases with his home run.
“I am not a fan of those celebrations,” said Detroit’s Magglio Ordonez, who hit a homer to end the 2006 ALCS. “You’re getting hit from all sides and people are jumping on you, and you are defending yourself more than you are celebrating. I really don’t like them.”
With the state of bullpens being what they are these days — and the liability many pitchers inside them have become — mob scenes at home plate occur more frequently than ever. Every one carries with it the potential for an unhappy ending.
“It’s not something that you would ever envision happening,” Braves outfielder Nate McLouth said. “I’m sure it will change the way people celebrate now.”
The question begs: Why go crazy celebrating a victory in late May like it was October?
Prior to Morales’ mishap, one of the most notable cases of a player hurting himself at the end of a game involved Minnesota second baseman Denny Hocking.
After catching the final out in the clinching game of the 2002 AL division series at Oakland, Hocking’s hand was broken during the impromptu melee when Jacque Jones stepped on the middle finger of his right hand and split the nail in two places. The injury prevented Hocking from playing in the ALCS, where the Twins were defeated by the Angels.
“It’s such an excitement when those kind of things happen. I don’t think it’ll be toned down,” said Brewers outfielder Corey Hart, who was mobbed by his teammates Friday night after his two-run homer in the ninth gave the Brewers a 2-0 victory. “I’ve never heard of anyone breaking their leg. I mean, you might take it into consideration, but it’s just a freak thing.”
AP Sports Writers Howie Rumberg in New York, Colin Fly in Milwaukee, and AP freelance writers Dave Hogg in Detroit, Mark Didtler in Tampa, Fla., and Amy Jinkner-Lloyd in Atlanta contributed to this report.