The Angels huddled around first base Wednesday night as medical personnel tended to Garrett Richards, who lay on his back, writhing in so much pain that first baseman Albert Pujols, on one knee, held the pitcher’s hand to comfort him.
Richards, the hard-throwing right-hander who has emerged as one of baseball’s best pitchers in his first full season as a starter, suffered what Manager Mike Scioscia called a “significant” left knee injury while covering first base on a potential double-play grounder in the second inning against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park.
Richards spent eight minutes on the ground before being wheeled out on a stretcher. His 2014 season appears finished, and he will likely need surgery on the patellar tendon, a procedure that would require at least a six-month recovery.
No doubt, fans and followers of this star-crossed franchise were wondering: Did the team’s World Series hopes get carted off with Richards?
“To have something like that happen is a crushing blow to any team,” Angels right-hander Jered Weaver said. “I heard him screaming down there, so you knew something wasn’t right. It doesn’t look too good for him. He’s been our guy all year, one you could count on to get deep into games and pull out a victory.”
The Angels showed the kind of resiliency it will take to overcome Richards’ loss, overcoming a three-run deficit and leaning heavily on their bullpen in an 8-3 victory over the Red Sox, their seventh victory in eight games.
The Angels (75-50) have the majors’ best record and a 11/2-game lead over Oakland on the eve of their American League West showdown with the Athletics this weekend.
But their pennant hopes, and their ability to match up with the league’s most dominant pitchers in the playoffs, were dealt a serious blow when Richards, whose mixes a 96-mph fastball with a devastating slider and curve, crumpled to the ground.
“We have no choice but to rally around each other, and we did that tonight,” catcher Chris Iannetta said. “We picked up the pitching and got some runs. We’ve been saying all along we need to hit to make a run. Hopefully, this is the start.”
Richards, 26, began the game with a 13-4 record, 2.53 earned-run average, 164 strikeouts in 167 innings and a .195 opponents’ average, tied with Seattle’s Felix Hernandez for the lowest in the league. He had a 1.79 ERA with 100 strikeouts in 14 starts since June 4.
With runners on first and second and one out in the second, Brock Holt hit a grounder to Pujols, who spun and fired to second. Richards sprinted from the mound toward first to receive a relay from shortstop Erick Aybar, but as he approached the bag, he caught his right cleat in the dirt, his left knee buckled.
Richards fell awkwardly and athletic trainers Adam Nevala and Rick Smith rushed to the field. A crowd of 35,136 fell silent as Richards rolled onto his back and clutched his left knee.
“When I saw him go down, I got sick to my stomach,” said center fielder Mike Trout, Richards’ roommate since the minor leagues. “It didn’t look good. He was in tears. I feel terrible. When I talked to him [in the clubhouse], he was devastated.”
Weaver also saw Richards in the trainers’ room before the injured pitcher was taken to a hospital. Richards will fly to Los Angeles on Thursday for tests and evaluation.
“When the doctor came in and told him he might have done something to his patellar tendon and surgery might be involved, he kind of lost it,” Weaver said. “He’s a competitor. He wants to be out there day in and day out.
“It was tough to see him in that position. It’s one of those freak things that happen. Our trainer said he hasn’t seen anything like this since he’s been around baseball.”
The Angels already had no margin for injury in the rotation after losing left-hander Tyler Skaggs, who underwent season-ending Tommy John surgery Aug. 13. Their four healthy starters are Weaver, C.J. Wilson, Hector Santiago and Matt Shoemaker.
Their best triple-A options to replace Richards are left-hander Wade LeBlanc (10-3 with a 4.00 ERA in 21 starts), left-hander Randy Wolf (5-2, 4.68 ERA in 11 starts) and right-hander Chris Volstad (2-1, 5.45 ERA in six starts). Another option is double-A left-hander Michael Roth (10-6, 2.82 ERA in 20 starts).
General Manager Jerry Dipoto could acquire a pitcher through a waiver claim or trade. The chances of landing a top arm after the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline are slim, but the Angels could acquire a starter who is an upgrade over their in-house options.
“I can’t tell you how bad we feel for Garrett, considering how hard he works and the type of year he was having,” Scioscia said. “Garrett is taking this hard. This is a huge blow for him. Hopefully, there won’t be any long-term ramifications, but we’ll see.”