Joy turns to horror on walk-off celebrations
Fluke injuries prematurely end season for Morales, Coghlan
On the dark side of the Planet Baseball moon, 2010 was the year of excessive celebrations gone wildly awry.
At Angel Stadium on May 29, Kendry Morales launched a game-winning grand slam against the Mariners and was carried off the field to a hospital, where X-rays revealed a severe fracture of his lower left leg. For attempting to jump through a crowd of joyous teammates and landing awkwardly on home plate, Morales' season ended -- and the Angels were never the same.
On July 25 at Sun Life Stadium, an 11th-inning walk-off single by Wes Helms produced a 5-4 Marlins victory at the expense of the Braves -- and, ultimately, Florida's reigning National League Rookie of the Year, Chris Coghlan.
In another freak accident with deep ramifications for his team, Coghlan suffered a torn meniscus in his left knee while attempting to deliver a shaving-cream pie to the face of Helms in what has become a familiar postgame ritual.
Everyone loves it -- until something goes terribly wrong.
There was nothing funny about this prank when Coghlan went to the disabled list and submitted to surgery two weeks later, wiping out his season.
The Angels knew all too well the feeling experienced by the Marlins and their fans.
As Morales landed awkwardly on home plate following his grand slam against the Mariners' Brandon League, creating a 5-1 victory in the 10th inning in front of 39,382 at Angel Stadium, the crowd was hushed for about 10 minutes as the slugger was seen writhing in pain.
"It will change the way we celebrate," said Angels manager Mike Scioscia, who immediately set down a new set of rules governing home-plate celebrations. "I know it's happened before. Unfortunately, it happened to us. It's sickening."
It was a surreal scene for a team that 14 months earlier had to come to grips with the death of its most promising young pitcher, Nick Adenhart, in a car wreck.
A native of Cuba, Morales led the Angels in batting average (.290), home runs (11), total bases (94) and RBIs (39) up to that point. He had started every game at first base following a breakout 2009 season in which he batted .306 with 34 homers and 108 RBIs.
The Angels' players couldn't wait to celebrate Morales' blow, and they watched in horror as their slugging first baseman landed awkwardly on home plate with his second attempt to make it official.
Torii Hunter was in the clubhouse, watching on TV, after getting struck in the hand by a pitch earlier in the game.
"It's crazy," Hunter said. "I was jumping up and down with ice on my wrist when he hit the home run. Before I know it, there's silence. You hate to see a fallen teammate go down in a great moment. You can go down any time."
Hunter saw Morales jump twice, missing the plate the first time and then leaping awkwardly, off the wrong foot, when he came down on the ankle, landing hard in the batter's box.
"He went up in a non-athletic way the second time and fell backwards," Hunter said. "He was off balance for the second jump. I always said somebody was going to land on somebody's foot, twist an ankle, spike somebody in one of those celebrations. I've thought about that for years."
Morales disappeared in rehab, surfacing late in the season to talk about the episode.
"I don't think I have any reason to have any doubt about coming back 100 percent," Morales said. "The doctor said I was in good hands, that everything went well. I'll be ready for next year."
On crutches for about two months, he estimated, after undergoing surgery to repair his fractured leg, Morales spent a lot of time with therapists and doctors, doing their prescribed exercise programs.
"It's been difficult, because it's the first time in my career I've been in this position," Morales said. "As much as you want to help on the field, you can't. You try to help mentally with the guys. I talk to them quite a bit -- joke around and bust their chops, like before."
Asked what the team has missed most -- his offense, defense or personality -- Morales had a surprising response.
"Probably my personality," he said. "I'm always trying to keep the guys loose, especially in the clubhouse. For me, that's probably what they're missing most -- my personality."
Asked if he felt his 2010 season would have been better than '09, he was noncommittal.
"Baseball is a round ball that comes in a square box," he said. "Last year, I started off not doing very well and finished strong. This year, I started out well and thought things were going in the right direction. But you never know."
Morales has watched television replays of his fall.
"I just got caught up in the emotion of the game," he said. "It happened. What can I do?
"I don't remember much. I remember jumping, being on the ground, looking at my foot and thinking perhaps it was broken."
Morales had started all 51 games for the Angels at first base. After his departure, they used eight other first basemen, never managing to replace the impact Morales brought to their lineup.
After Coghlan's surgery, the Marlins were optimistic that he would return. It didn't happen.
In 91 games, he batted .268 with a .335 on-base percentage, including 20 doubles and 28 RBIs. He was the Marlins' only left-handed hitter to homer all season, leaving their offense vulnerable to southpaws.
"When Wes hit the walk-off, I went to pie him in the face," Coghlan said. "When I jumped, I landed wrong on my knee. That's how I got injured."
The Marlins, like the Angels, immediately addressed excessive celebrating and decided there would be no more shaving-cream pie rituals.
Coghlan had never been on the disabled list before the incident.
It came during a flurry of walk-off triumphs by the Marlins, including two by Donnie Murphy. For easier access to shaving cream, a can was placed on a shelf inside the batting cage just behind the Marlins' dugout.
"Some people will get a laugh at it," he said. "Some people will think it's crazy. But it's just a freak thing. You can't control your emotions in the excitement of when you win the game.
"It was a walk-off. It was our fourth one. It's exciting times. It's not like when you hit a walk-off, everyone is going to say, 'Good job,' you give a high-five and walk away. This game is played with emotion."
Yet there are times when those emotions need to be restrained at least somewhat.
"It's very humbling when the game is taken away," Coghlan said. "It's also unfortunate, especially with the circumstance that happened. If you get injured, you want to know you're out there competing and not when you're celebrating. I think this experience shows that you get injured celebrating.
"As players, we need to be a little more aware. It's a game of emotions -- and the emotions get the best of you."
Coghlan had a history with meniscus tears. When he was 14, he tore the cartilage in his right knee while making a cutting motion in the outfield of a youth game.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.