PORT ST. LUCIE — On the surface at least, it was business as usual in the Mets’ clubhouse on Thursday afternoon, some players packing for a trip to a game in West Palm Beach, others shooting the breeze at their lockers before a workout. At one point Buck Showalter cracked a joke to a group of players in the middle of the room, and they laughed hysterically.
It didn’t mean they weren’t hurting for Edwin Diaz, their fallen teammate and the best closer in baseball last year. It’s just the way of the world for pro athletes; they become hardened to the reality of injuries, always moving on, knowing the games must be played no matter what.
Yet beneath that surface, when players were asked individually about Diaz, there was no mistaking what a bombshell had been dropped on them. Perhaps more on a personal level than anything else.
They had just been told as a team that Diaz almost certainly will be out for the season, undergoing surgery Thursday afternoon after tearing the patellar tendon in his right knee in a group celebration of his save in the WBC game Wednesday night, and it was revealing that all they really wanted to talk about was what he meant to them off the field more so than on it.
“He was a beacon of light for me,” said Drew Smith. “He’s always happy, always smiling. Over the course of a long season, with the ups and downs of baseball, to have a constant positive presence, no matter if he pitches good or bad, is always encouraging to a fellow relief pitcher who has been through the ups and downs as well.
“It’s just a dagger, it really is, to have something like that happen to a guy everybody loves.”
Brandon Nimmo said Diaz’s influence went beyond his fellow relievers as well.
“He always brought that big, infectious smile and personality to the clubhouse,” Nimmo said. “He was never anxious, never nervous. Those are the things you can’t replace.”
Of course, you can also make the case that as a closer Diaz can’t be replaced either, at least the 2022 version of “Sugar,” as his teammates call him, who was practically untouchable last season, remarkably striking out 17.1 batters per nine innings.
Yet that’s where players differ from fans and media. That part they’re trained to believe they can overcome, that on a team as talent-rich as the Mets, someone will step up to do the job in the ninth…
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