MIAMI -- All the Brewers could do was look on as reigning National League Most Valuable Player Award winner Christian Yelich sat in pain near home plate during his first at-bat of Tuesday night's bittersweet 4-3 win over Miami at Marlins Park. After the game, their worst fears were confirmed: Yelich sustained a broken right kneecap and will miss the remainder of the season, the team announced. He will fly back to Milwaukee on Wednesday for further testing.
"We don’t have a definitive time frame, other than we know he’ll be out for the remainder of the season," Brewers president of baseball operations and general manager David Stearns said. "We also don’t know whether surgery is required. He’ll need some further diagnostic imaging tomorrow in Milwaukee, then [he’ll] meet with our doctors and we’ll plot a plan going forward."
Batting in the first inning, Yelich fouled a 79.8 mph slider from right-hander Elieser Hernandez off his right knee. He fell to the ground, and Brewers assistant athletic trainer Rafael Freitas and manager Craig Counsell came out to check on him. When Yelich tried to get up, he immediately went back down and was unable to straighten his leg.
Yelich would eventually get to his feet before bending over, walking off on his own power and heading through the tunnel into the clubhouse. Trent Grisham took over the at-bat with a 1-2 count before taking a strikeout that was credited to Yelich.
"Yeah, he’s down. He’s disappointed. He’s crushed. It’s awful news," Counsell said. "I went out there and his whole body was shaking, so I was really concerned. It was just different looking. When he got up ... I saw him walk down the stairs and I was somewhat optimistic at that point. Obviously, we got some bad news.”
Added Marlins shortstop and former teammate Miguel Rojas: "I feel so bad. Not just for him as a player, but for us, because we're friends. It's just awful for baseball. Losing a player like him, an MVP candidate again at this time of the year, when they're trying to make the playoffs and they're trying to make a run for a championship, it's really bad. For it to happen against us, it hurts a little bit more. Hopefully, Yelich can bounce back from this."
Word of the severity of the injury traveled to the Brewers' dugout around the fourth inning. Veteran outfielder Lorenzo Cain said Yelich was "very down" and "had a few tears in his eyes."
Losing Yelich is a huge blow to the Brewers, who are now one game behind the Cubs for the second NL Wild Card spot with 18 regular-season contests remaining, after Chicago lost to San Diego 9-8 in 10 innings on Tuesday night. The Brewers have now won five in a row.
Yelich entered Tuesday leading the Majors in several categories, including slugging percentage (.671), OPS (1.100) and total bases (328). His final season numbers: .329/.429/.671 with 29 doubles, three triples, 44 homers, 100 runs, 97 RBIs and 30 stolen bases. Despite his season ending after 130 games, he set various Brewers franchise records: wRC+ (172), wOBA (.441), OPS (1.100), slugging (.671) and AB/HR (11.11).
"That's some big news," Cain said. "He's one of our leaders, he's our MVP. To get that kind of news during the game, a lot of guys were down in the dugout. We continued to battle out there and find a way to get it done, and we put it together at the end and find a way to get a win. We're going to miss him. That's big shoes to fill, and [he's] hard to replace."
But that is what Milwaukee must do.
Navigating an injury-depleted roster is nothing new for the Brewers. Keston Hiura (left hamstring strain) and Brandon Woodruff (left oblique strain) are on the injured list. Manny Pina is dealing with a concussion.
Grisham started Monday’s series opener over Ryan Braun and matched a club rookie mark with five hits. Cain (left knee bruise) looked more like himself, especially in center field, over the first two games at Marlins Park. According to Counsell, both rookie Grisham and Ben Gamel will take on more prominent roles.
With Mike Moustakas (bone bruise on his left hand) and Orlando Arcia (birth of twins) not in the starting lineup, the Brewers turned to Cory Spangenberg and Hernan Perez up the middle. That duo sparked a two-out rally in the second, as Spangenberg singled and Perez hit a two-run homer to left.
Yasmani Grandal stayed hot at the plate, knocking an RBI double in the third and leading off the ninth with a single that beat the shift. Grisham followed with a double before pinch-hitter Tyler Austin’s go-ahead sacrifice fly. Drew Pomeranz struck out Lewis Brinson with the tying run at third in the bottom of the frame for the save.
“It's frustrating, but it's baseball, and it’s professional sports,” said Stearns, who called it a gut punch. “Crazy things happen. It's incredibly unfortunate for Christian. He’s worked very hard to get to these points in the season, to get to this point in his career where he can carry a team like he carried us over points of the last couple years. It’s frustrating, but we move on. This is what happens in professional sports, and we expect other guys will be able to pick up some of the production that will be missing from Christian.”
Both Counsell and Stearns likened the situation to the one the organization experienced on Sept. 8, 2017, when Jimmy Nelson sustained a season-ending injury (partially torn labrum and a strained rotator cuff in his right shoulder). The contending Brewers went 13-8 the rest of the way, just missing out on a postseason spot.
“We battled to a win [on Tuesday], and that’s what we’re going to have to do the rest of the year," Counsell said. "Just find ways to do it. Guys are going to have to step up. Guys are going to take on bigger roles. We've got a lot of guys doing good things right now, and that's how we're going to have to win games."