It was, for a fleeting moment, the latest in a string of energizing moments for a Nationals club that was about to mount its latest (and perhaps most impressive) ninth-inning rally.
And then jubilation among the crowd of 34,562 at Nationals Park turned to silence and shock as Adam Eaton lay on the ground just past first base, clutching his lower left leg in agony.
The bases were still loaded with nobody out, the Nats still were in position to pull off a dramatic comeback against the Mets, but none of that seemed to matter anymore.
“You’d have much rather lost the game than lose Adam,” manager Dusty Baker said.
The Nationals did wind up losing the game, stranding the bases loaded after Trea Turner struck out and Bryce Harper grounded into a double play, left to stew over a 7-5 loss to the Mets that felt far less significant than the potentially serious injury to their leadoff man.
The club had no official word on Eaton in the moments after the game, with Baker saying only more would be known after the center fielder undergoes tests in the morning. But the look on the faces in the clubhouse said it all.
“It’s just awful,” right-hander Max Scherzer said. “Especially when you see the replay, he comes up short of the bag and you see his ankle roll over, his whole leg kind of falls apart. Seeing him in the training room, it’s an awful feeling. You hate seeing your teammates, those guys injured severely. And I think that’s what happened.”
The frightening moment came just as the Nationals were stringing together an improbable rally off Mets closer Jeurys Familia. When Matt Wieters and Adam Lind singled to open the bottom of the ninth, Eaton stepped to the plate representing the winning run.
Eaton proceeded to tap a soft grounder to the left side of the infield, forcing shortstop Asdrúbal Cabrera to range to his right and make a long throw across the diamond. Eaton beat the throw, but in lunging to reach the base in time, his left ankle got twisted and he proceeded to tumble to the ground.
Eaton immediately grabbed his leg in agony as head athletic trainer Paul Lessard raced from the dugout to check on him. After several minutes on the ground, the crowd silent, Lessard and fellow trainer Greg Barajas hoisted Eaton up and carried him back to the dugout, no weight being put on either of his legs.
“My heart goes out to him right now, to anyone in that situation,” second baseman Daniel Murphy said. “To see somebody go down like that, just competing, it’s frustrating. I’m frustrated for him.”
Shocked by the loss of their teammate and sparkplug, the Nationals still had to try to compose themselves and try to finish off the rally. Whether emotions played any role in what happened next is impossible to know, but the rally immediately fizzled.
Turner struck out facing Familia, then Mets manager Terry Collins summoned left-hander Josh Edgin to face Harper, pulling his closer with one out in the bottom of the ninth. The gambit worked, because Edgin got Harper to hit a comebacker, starting a 1-2-3 double play to end the game in disheartening fashion.
“Edgin was warming up, so I thought I’d face him, definitely,” Harper said. “Threw me a backup slider second pitch, hit it (foul) over the dugout. And he threw me another slider and got me. It’s just part of the game and part of the process. I’ll face him again.”
And what of the emotional swing of those final few minutes, with a teammate who in his first month with the Nationals has made himself into a fan favorite and key contributor?
“He’s grinding,” Harper said. “He’s grinding an at-bat to get a pitch from Familia, puts it in the hole and is able to beat it out. I don’t know what happened to him, if it got his knee or his ankle or his whole leg, but it’s just a scary situation and you hope he’s OK. I guess we’ll see later on.”
The club should know more in the morning. But if the initial reactions were any indication, this team is going to have to prepare to play without Eaton for a considerable amount of time.
“We all knew on the bench it didn’t look good,” Baker said. “We still had the chance to come back and win that game, but the guy made the pitches on Trea and made the pitches on Bryce. And they got away.
“Boy, that’s a tough way to end the game.”