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History says Rays might survive injuries … or not

Carl Crawford blows out a tendon in his right hand, and it is your head that begins to hurt. Evan Longoria fractures a bone in his right wrist, and it is your heart that starts to ache.

You wanted a pennant race? This is what it is like. It is exhilaration, and it is torture. It is counting Scott Kazmir's pitches, and searching for B.J. Upton's impact.

More than anything, it is trying to hang on. That's what these next six weeks will be about. Surviving without Crawford for the rest of the regular season, and biding time until Longoria can get back at the end of the month.

Can the Rays pull it off? Statistically speaking, the odds are certainly in their favor. Baseball Prospectus uses a computer model to predict the final outcome of the season, and it says Tampa Bay has about a 94 percent chance of reaching the postseason.

Today, that can either be comforting or frightening. It means the Rays should make the playoffs, but if they don't it will involve a collapse of major proportions. The kind of collapse you might see when a team loses, oh let's say, a couple of All-Stars along the way.

All of which got us wondering just how often injuries have played a major role in pennant races. Which teams may have fallen short because of torn hamstrings, and which teams endured broken bones to win anyway.

Obviously, none of these cases is exactly like Tampa Bay's situation. And there is absolutely nothing scientific about this sampling. Just something to think about as you wait for the bandages to come off.

The 2007 Padres: With eight games remaining in the season, San Diego had a 21/2-game lead in the wild-card standings and a magic number of six. Then Milton Bradley and Mike Cameron collided in the outfield. Cameron, a Gold Glove centerfielder, tore a ligament in his thumb when he dived for a ball and Bradley stepped on his hand in the fifth inning of a game against Colorado. Three innings later, Bradley tore his ACL while being restrained in an argument with an umpire.

With two-thirds of their outfield gone, the Padres went 4-4 down the stretch and finished in a tie with Colorado. The Rockies won a one-game playoff and went on to the World Series. The Padres went home to recuperate.

The 1987 Blue Jays: Toronto was about a week away from winning a division title when shortstop Tony Fernandez had his elbow fractured by Detroit's Bill Madlock trying to break up a double play.

Even without Fernandez, the Blue Jays won the first three games of the series against the Tigers and had a 31/2-game lead with seven remaining. Then came a loss on Sunday. And another loss to Milwaukee on Monday.

On Tuesday, catcher Ernie Whitt had his ribs broken when he tried to break up a double play of his own and, suddenly, the Blue Jays were free falling. They never won another game in 1987.

The 1983 Braves: Third baseman Bob Horner had 20 home runs, 68 RBIs and a .528 slugging percentage when he broke his wrist on Aug. 15. Sound like anyone you know? Longoria had 22 home runs, 71 RBIs and a .533 slugging percentage when he broke his wrist on Aug. 7.

Beginning the day of Horner's injury, the Braves went 17-27 and went from a 51/2-game lead to three games behind the Dodgers.

The 1967 Cardinals: Different position, different time of year, different outcome. The Cardinals had a four-game lead when Bob Gibson had his leg broken by a Roberto Clemente line drive on July 15. The ace right-hander missed nearly eight weeks and, when he returned, the Cardinals were up by 111/2 games.

Gibson went on to win three games in the World Series against the Red Sox, who had survived their own horrific injury when Tony Conigliaro was hit in the face with a pitch in August.

The 1949 Yankees: Think it hurts to lose Crawford and Longoria? Try Yogi Berra and Joe DiMaggio. The Yankees were without two Hall of Famers for good portions of 1949.

DiMaggio missed the season's first 65 games with a heel injury, coming back just in time to face the second-place Red Sox in late June. In his first at-bats of '49, DiMaggio hit four home runs and drove in nine runs as the Yankees swept Boston in three games.

Still, aches and pains continued to plague New York. DiMaggio missed two weeks in late September with pneumonia as the Red Sox moved past the Yankees.

With two games remaining in the season and Boston holding a one-game lead, DiMaggio left the hospital to smack a single and a double in a 5-4 New York win. The teams were tied at 96-57 on the final day of the season when DiMaggio had a triple in New York's pennant-clinching 5-3 victory.

None of these stories are precisely the same. And there are dozens more, just like them. The Red Sox lost Jim Rice when his wrist was broken by a pitch in 1975 but still won a pennant. The Cardinals were in first place in August 1941 but collapsed after outfielders Enos Slaughter and Terry Moore were injured.

The list goes on and on, with some good results and some bad.

In another six weeks, you can add the Rays.

One way, or another.

John Romano can be reached at romano@sptimes.com.

History says Rays might survive injuries … or not 08/13/08 [Last modified: Thursday, August 14, 2008 4:40pm]
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