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Hard-luck Bucs

Pirates lose Kendall to season-ending ankle injury

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Posted: Sunday July 04, 1999 11:50 PM

  Trying to beat out a bunt, Jason Kendall took a few more strides before grabbing his right leg and collapsing to the turf. AP

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Jason Kendall collapsed in a terrifying heap, his right ankle shattered and his body in shock. Some Pittsburgh teammates rushed to help, only to turn away in horror as they saw a bone protruding grotesquely from his leg.

In one of baseball's worst on-field injuries in years, Kendall fractured and dislocated his right ankle in a frightening fall at first base and was sidelined for the season -- and maybe longer -- Sunday in the Pirates' 4-3 loss to Milwaukee.

To players on both teams, the gruesome accident brought back unsettling memories of similar ankle injuries to other star athletes -- Joe Theismann, Robin Ventura -- and left some questioning if Kendall would ever be the same player again.

Trainer Kent Biggerstaff said the Pirates' best hope was that Kendall, arguably the National League's best all-around catcher, would recover in time for spring training.

"It was one of the worst things I've seen," manager Gene Lamont said. "You could tell it was bad. I've never seen anything like it, with the bone sticking out like that."

"What you don't know about is his speed," he said. "He was probably going to set the record for steals by a catcher, but will that speed come back? I just don't know."

Kendall was trying unsuccessfully to beat out a bunt in the fifth inning when his foot awkwardly struck the side of the first-base bag, rather than the top of the base. He took five or six more strides, then collapsed onto the artificial turf.

He went into shock almost immediately, a piece of his fibula sticking several inches out of his skin. Some teammates on the Pirates bench could not stand to watch, burying their faces in their hands.

"I think everybody on this team was in shock, too," backup catcher Keith Osik said.

Afterward, several shaken players said the injury reminded them of former White Sox third baseman Robin Ventura's horrifying ankle injury during a home-plate collision in spring training two years ago.

When Ventura was hurt, a fan passed out in the stands at the sight of the injury. This time, only the players around Kendall could see how horrible it was, though several fans related afterward they could see Kendall's ankle hanging limply at an unsightly angle.

"I don't think a lot of us could look at it," Pirates outfielder Brian Giles said. "It gave me a sick feeling. It puts the whole game of baseball back into perspective. It was just sad to see."

Brewers first baseman Mark Loretta took one look and turned away.

"It's one of the most gruesome things I've ever seen," Loretta said. "I'm still shaking from it. I looked over and his ankle was just hanging limp. You could see bone sticking out. It was bad. Something like that puts a dark cloud over the whole game."

Several Pirates were nearly in tears, including Osik, Kendall's best friend, his backup and, now, his replacement.

"This is a tough time for this team," he said.

General manager Cam Bonifay also was visibly shaken by the injury, which was reminiscent of former Pirates second baseman Rennie Stennett's broken ankle in 1977. Stennett, formerly the Pirates second baseman, was leading the NL in hitting at the time, but was never the same player after returning.

Ventura came back to play one-third of the 1997 season, and the Pirates are hopeful Kendall will make a rapid recovery, too. One of baseball's hardest-working players, he will likely spend hours a day in rehabilitation.

Kendall, who was batting .332, made the All-Star Game as a rookie in 1996 and again last year and seemed a near lock to make it again this season. With 22 stolen bases, he was on a pace to break the major league single-season record for a catcher of 36 steals. He also has developed into one of the majors' best defensive catchers, throwing out 46 percent (26-of-57) of runners attempting to steal.

The Pirates (40-40) have surprisingly stayed in contention in the NL Central with one of the majors' lowest payrolls, but their chances of staying around .500 with Kendall out are uncertain.

"I felt sick to my stomach," Bonifay said. "You don't replace an All-Star catcher, a player who means so much to this team on the field and in the clubhouse. You just don't know what effect it will have on your ballclub."

On Sunday, the Brewers seemed as devastated by the injury as the Pirates did. Steve Woodard, who had pitched 4 1/3 hitless innings, promptly gave up a double to Warren Morris and the Pirates later scored twice in the sixth.

"I think the injury may have rattled him a bit," Brewers manager Phil Garner said.

Despite being unnerved by Kendall's injury, the Pirates rallied from a 3-0 deficit to tie it, only to lose as Dave Nilsson and Geoff Jenkins homered and Woodard pitched effectively over six innings on a 96-degree day. The Brewers swept both of their three-game series in Pittsburgh this season.

Jenkins, who had entered the inning before in a double switch, hit a tiebreaking homer off Brad Clontz (0-2) leading off the Brewers ninth.

David Weathers (6-3) got the final two outs in the eighth for the victory before Bob Wickman got his 16th save, needing only six pitches to retire the side in the ninth.

Notes: The Pirates had the NL's best home record (23-13) before being swept in the series. ... The Brewers won their 11th in 14 games despite being held to fewer than 10 hits for the first time in six games and only the second time during the 14-game stretch. ... Lamont was ejected in the ninth after arguing that Morris' groundout down the first-base line should have been ruled a foul ball.

Related information
Pirates' Kendall dislocates, fractures ankle
Brewers-Pirates Box Score
CNN/SI Historical Profile: Rennie Stennett
Kevin Young knows it will be difficult to move on from this. (71 K)
Pittsburgh coach Joe Jones understands when athletes play hard, these type of injuries can occur. (96 K)
Gene Lamont knows his team faces a difficult challenge after losing Kendall. (95 K)
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