Moving past 'pity party,' Yelich gets to work

September 16th, 2019

MILWAUKEE -- What remembers most is the pain. He’s fouled dozens of baseballs off his right leg over the years, maybe hundreds, but he never experienced pain like that. It was so acute, Yelich said, that his head tingled and his arms went numb. He couldn’t breathe. After somehow ambling off the field, he remembers being in a crowded room under Marlins Park and seeing the X-ray of his kneecap go up on the lightboard.

“If you see the X-ray, you don’t need a doctor to tell you that it’s broke,” Yelich said. “I knew way before the game was over that it was a wrap.”

In other words, he knew his season was over. And while that instinct proved true, Yelich did take solace while reuniting with teammates on Monday as the Brewers returned to Miller Park that his prognosis was not worse. He will not need surgery to set the fracture, and doctors say that when he recovers in eight to 10 weeks, Yelich should not experience any lasting effects from an injury that dealt a huge blow to his chances to win back-to-back National League Most Valuable Player Awards.

The immediate aim is to control the swelling in his knee, said Yelich, who spoke to reporters while standing because it is difficult to sit. Then the physical healing can begin.

And what of the mental hit of having another sensational season ended in an instant?

“It’s life in sports,” Yelich said. “There’s a lot of work that goes into being in a position like we were this season, but, hey, sometimes it just doesn’t go in your favor. It’s actually the first time I’ve ever broken anything in my life or had a real injury. It kind of sucks in that aspect, but it’s pro sports. Injuries happen. At times, it’s just very unfortunate. It seems to be one of those things that’s just not fair at the moment.

“Trust me, I had my pity party that night at the stadium. I felt terrible. I was down in the dumps. After leaving the stadium -- shower, put your street clothes on, get going -- it’s all just being positive and trying to get back. I haven’t spent any time on 'Why me?' or 'Why this?' It happened. I have no way to change it now, so it’s just about getting better, getting back out there.

“Trust me, I wish I could have an impact on this race, or if we make the playoffs, participate in that. It’s just not going to happen, so there’s no point in dwelling on it or letting it get you down.”

The Brewers have been playing some of their best baseball to stay in the middle of the NL’s postseason race since Yelich went down in the first inning of last Tuesday’s win over the Marlins. Mike Moustakas homered twice the next night, and Ryan Braun finished the four-game sweep the day after that by hitting a go-ahead homer while wearing Yelich’s jersey under his own.

The Brewers’ winning streak was stopped at seven in a 10-0 loss at St. Louis on Friday, but Milwaukee responded to win the final two games of the series, including Sunday’s thriller on Braun’s go-ahead grand slam with two outs in the ninth inning, to enter Monday within three games of the first-place Cardinals in the NL Central standings and within one game of the Cubs for the NL’s second Wild Card berth.

“Win or lose, we’re going to miss Christian,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “There’s no question about it.”

It’s not yet known whether Yelich will travel with the Brewers on their final road trip to Cincinnati and Colorado -- and perhaps beyond, if things go right. But that sort of uncertainty is easy to handle. What was much tougher was the uncertainty in the first day after he went down. Yelich traveled back to Milwaukee for tests with the team’s physicians to determine whether he would require a surgical procedure that could have affected his offseason training at best, and cost him part of next season at worst.

"I think the hardest part of the whole thing was the unknown for about 24 hours," Yelich said. "Just a broad spectrum of outcomes and recovery times depending on what the MRI showed."

It was during that period that Yelich heard support from all corners. He called Braun’s jersey tribute “cool” and said he’d been receiving texts from a number of teammates every day to check in. Yelich also was flooded with support on social media, including a particularly touching video from patients at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, whom Yelich had just visited before the Brewers hit the road.

“It makes me feel better,” he said. “I definitely appreciate all the support, all the well wishes for a speedy recovery. You just try to stay as positive as possible.”

Naturally, he likes the Brewers’ chances to win without him.

“There’s a good vibe in the clubhouse down the stretch,” Yelich said. “There’s a lot of people that put us in this position with a chance to make the playoffs.”