TEMPE, Ariz. — It was a simple agility drill, one Mark Mulder did all winter in preparation for his first spring training camp in six years. The Angels left-hander was backpedaling at an easy pace Saturday morning when he stopped and planted his left foot in the grass so he could move forward.
“I heard a loud pop,” Mulder said Sunday. “I fell forward, almost like you slip, and I was confused. I didn’t know what happened. I actually thought my shoe broke. I thought the heel popped off. I stood and lifted my left foot. I put my foot down and had this weird feeling, like the ball of my foot wasn’t attached to my foot.”
That’s essentially what happened. An MRI test showed a ruptured Achilles' tendon, and Mulder, 36, was fitted with a walking boot and crutches.
He will undergo surgery, and his attempted comeback after a six-year retirement, a story fans and players across the league were beginning to rally behind, is over, at least for this season.
“I can’t describe to you guys how excited I was because I knew how good it was, I knew how I was doing and how I could help this team,” said Mulder, who had shoulder surgery in 2006 and 2007 and retired after 2008. “To have it taken away that quick, it’s hard.”
Especially for Mulder’s 6-year-old son, Xander, who couldn’t wait to start tagging along with his father to the stadium and hanging around the clubhouse and field.
“My wife told him in the car that I had gotten hurt and wasn’t going to be pitching and stuff,” said Mulder, who lives in Phoenix. “He didn’t understand it, but I think when he walked in and saw me, he understood it then. I lost it. When he started crying a little bit, I did too. It was tough.”
Mulder, who went 103-60 with a 4.18 earned run average in nine years with Oakland and St. Louis from 2000 to 2008, will meet with a surgeon Monday. He has not given up on the idea of pitching again, but the procedure he will undergo requires a five- to eight-month recovery.
“I have to wait and see what the doctors say, see what the process is, how healthy I can get, how good it feels,” Mulder said. “There are just so many variables. I’d love to say yes, I will pitch again, but to be honest, I don’t know.”
Manager Mike Scioscia hopes Mulder doesn’t give up.
“This guy worked so hard — he was legitimately throwing the ball close to where he was in his prime,” Scioscia said. “We were really excited about it. It’s an incredible setback, it’s tough, but he was too close to quit on it.”
Mulder said he had never had a lower-body injury in all the years he has played baseball and basketball, which made Saturday’s setback even more of a fluke
“I tell a lot of young guys to take advantage of these opportunities, because you can throw one pitch and be done,” he said. “That’s part of any sport. It can be taken away from you in a heartbeat.”