The count was 0-2 and there were two outs. The Rockies were clinging to a one run lead and the Phillies had the tying run on third base. It felt like any other tense moment over the course of Major League Baseball’s regular season; it was the kind of edge-of-your-seat battle between two players in a key moment that brings fans back, night after night. Closer Rafael Betancourt hit his spot and Phillies’ infielder rolled over a weak groundball to the third base side of the mound. Third baseman Nolan Arenado was unable to bare-hand the soft roller, Young was safe at first, and the game was tied. In the moment it was another disappointment, but not atypical of what every team goes through over the course of the long season.
It was after the game that this moment gained larger significance. It was after the game that it turned into something very sad for Rockies players and fans alike.
Betancourt revealed that he had been pitching with an injured right elbow. What he thought was just soreness was clearly more serious. As told to Troy Renck of the Denver Post after last night’s 5-4 loss:
It’s not good. It’s very sore right now. I have gone through a lot of pain throughout my whole career, but this is completely different. I could not throw another pitch…I figured I had one more pitch in me. Either get him out and game over, or come out of the game. I thought I could do it. If I throw one more pitch after that it was going to be really bad.”
Rockies trainer Keith Dugger believes the injury might be a ulnar collateral ligament tear, which would require Tommy John surgery.
At 38 years old, Betancourt might not opt to go through that operation and the subsequent year of rehab. If that diagnosis is correct, then we might have seen Betancourt throw the last pitch of his career on that stupid play.
A seemingly normal baseball moment turned into something much more significant. Such is the manner in which the beautiful impermanence that characterizes this game can also be cruel. No more talk about who should be the Rockies closer or Betancourt’s status on waivers or a trade or the Rockies’ road record or anything else.
Now the focus shifts, at least for the moment, to appreciating what Betancourt has meant to the Rockies over the last number of years and hoping that this is not the end of the line for him.