It was an overcast Saturday afternoon at Shea Stadium in the Flushing section of Queens, New York. The New York Mets, (93-61) and in first place at the time, hosted the visting Washington Nationals, who were (67-87), far removed from Playoff contention, competitively playing out the last weeks of the 2006 season.
The Mets entered the eigth inning with a 9-5 lead over the Nationals courtesy of David Wright's fifth inning three-run blast, which capped off a six-run inning for New York off Washington lefty Mike O'Connor.
Washington's right-handed reliever Jason Bergmann took the mound in the eigth and promptly allowed a homer to Paul Lo Duca to give New York a 10-5 lead. David Wright was up next. Bergmann got Wright down 1-2, and got the Mets third baseman to swing under a fastball, which Wright sliced and sent arching slowly into short right field...
...Washington first baseman Nick Johnson sprinted out into right watching over his shoulder for the the ball which was quickly descending...
...Austin Kearns had a good jump on the ball and was charging, full speed, from deep right. As the ball fell Kearns judged where it would land, and awkwardly slid forward over the grass on his knees, reaching out in front of his body to try to make the catch...
The crowd noise rose as the ball appeared destined to land in the grass.
...At the same time Nick Johnson, realizing he might not reach it, decided to slide, mirroring Kearns' attempt...as the two collided, Kearns knee connected squarely with the middle of Johnson's right thigh instantly breaking Johnson's femur which produced a disturbing enough sound to halt the entire Nationals team as David Wright unknowingly continued sprinting to third...
...Nick Johnson was in the midst of his most successful season in the Majors at the time of the injury, batting .290 with 46 doubles, 23 HR's and 77 RBI's, all career highs, and was on his way to finally answering the "if only he played a whole season" talk which had followed him through his five previous Major League seasons.
Johnson was batting .303 against left-handed pitching, though most of his power came against right-handed pitching...had a .428 OBP, 110 walks, 13 bases the hard way, and had hit in 145 of 500 AB's over 147 games with only 15 errors in the field as the Nationals everyday first baseman.
The first reports from DC had Johnson returning in time for Spring Training, but as March approached it was apparent that Johnson was not going to be ready for the start of the season, and some reports had him out until at least the mid-season All-Star Break.
The Nationals signed Dmitri Young as an insurance policy late in the Spring, and within weeks Young was inserted in the starting lineup at first. Nick Johnson continued to rehab his leg, but months went by with only setbacks reported, until ultimately, on August 16th, it was announced that he would indeed miss the entire season, as he underwent a second surgery for a problem that had develop in his hip.
Dmitri Young had an MLB-Comeback-Player-of-The-Year-Award-worthy season at first for the Nationals in '07. Young connected for 38 doubles, 13 HR's and 74 RBI's in 136 games, and his play for DC, and his instant connection with the city and it's fans, has raised a lot of speculation about the roles of both he and Nick Johnson if each is healthy for the 2008 season.
Can Johnson fully recover from the devastating leg injury and return to an everyday role with the team? Can DY (as was rumored) work himself back into the sort of shape that would allow the big man to roam left field? Is an outfield of DY, Wily Mo Pena and Kearns the craziest thing you've ever heard? (That's not possible right?)
Could Nick Johnson be traded?...DY can't play the outfield right? Wily Mo Pena in center?
And speaking of trades and outfielders, Barry Svrluga and Dave Sheinin at the Washington Post are reporting that the Nationals might be interested trading for Coco Crisp of the Boston Red Sox, who has quickly become expendable with the emergence of Post Season sensation Jacoby Ellsbury.
How many outfielders can one team have?
*Poll Results* The Federal Baseball readers have spoken, and in spite of Alfonso Soriano's offensive exploits, it was Nick Johnson who edged out the current Cubs outfielder as the National who was most-missed in '07?
*NEW POLL... You missed Johnson the most? Which pitcher do you hope you've watched for the last time as a National...*