It was a gentile situation; one that required a team to forget about the game and allow a player to tend to family, friends, and a town in need. The Phillies did just that when they permitted Roy Oswalt to fly home to Weir, Mississippi, after another rash of tornadoes hit in late April, wrecking even more a year after twisters leveled much of Roy Oswalt’s hometown in 2010.
Travel back with me to 2005. A pledge was made by owner Drayton McLane to the Astros ace; you clinch the NL pennant for Houston and a brand new bulldozer is yours. Roy O. did just that, tossing seven innings of one-run ball to send the Astros to the World Series. Following the season, just before Christmas, McLane presented him with a $200,000 dozer as he’d promised.
The Phillies OK’d Oswalt’s latest humanitarian effort because it was the correct thing to do. Friends were lost in the storms, roads needed to be cleared, family was going through a tough time. Oswalt has the financial wherewithal, and the tools, to help clear roads with his equipment and make life easier for a town in shambles. There was really no other choice.
But did this trip home wreck Oswalt’s season, and possibly even his career?
After he returned to Philadelphia, he talked about spending plenty of time on his tractor, cleaning debris scattered about Weir. Ruben Amaro was a concerned party at the time, especially with the knowledge that a balky back bothered Oswalt before leaving for Mississippi. If you recall, he ended his start after just three innings in Arizona on April 26.
Since that dreadful night in Phoenix, Oswalt’s numbers declined. He kept the Phillies well within striking distance in most games, however, you could see that with his dwindling K-rate and dip in velocity he wasn’t the same man as before the ailment. Even the most elementary of baseball plays had him looking out of sorts.
After Thursday night’s two-inning stay against the Cardinals, it is now understood that something is very wrong. For years, Oswalt has dealt with lingering issues but has always pitched through with confidence. The numbers back that up.
Only once in his 10 seasons prior to 2011 did Oswalt start less than 30 games.
With a quote like “I feel it when I sit down and I stand up, when I walk, pitch, sleep,” he may never reach that plateau again.
Perhaps that’s being too forward; we don’t know all of the details, but an MRI will give provide clarity into the fogginess that is Oswalt’s back. The pitcher may have given us a conclusion of his own.
It seems vulgar to think about, but if Oswalt rested his back instead of using it for a week straight, would this be happening now? If he instead received treatment to help the healing process rather than working machinery to move the earth back to its rightful place, would all be well? “If’s” are “if’s” for a reason – “if’” the tornado hadn’t ravaged his town again, this may all be a moot point. But unfortunately it did, and Roy Oswalt tended to his family like any man would.
If this is the end of the road, Oswalt seems understanding of it. Make no mistake, Oswalt is a gamer and has a bulldog mentality on the mound, even to a fault. While speaking with reporters, he mentioned that he didn’t want to be labeled a quitter, so he pitched through pain. But his candid post-game interview on Thursday night speaks to the fact that he could be gearing up for the end of the road.
“Just like I said before, you throw as long as you can throw, and when you can’t throw no more, you can’t throw no more. I’m going to keep throwing as long as I can, and hopefully it’s not gotten to the point where I can’t throw no more. But if it’s gotten to that point, you just have to accept it.”
Little Roy followed that up by saying that his career has been a pretty solid one.
“I’ve had a pretty good one,” he said laughing. “I don’t know. I’m going to do what’s best for the team. If I can’t pitch, I can’t pitch. I’m not going to keep going out there and being a liability for the bullpen to pick me up. If it’s gotten to that point, it’s gotten to that point. We’ll just see what the doctor says on the MRI and go from there.”
Oswalt’s MRI will come Monday (not sure why there is such a wait) and at that time his future will be laid out before him. Will rest and rehab allow him to return before the end of the season, to take another stab at a title that has eluded him for more than a decade? Or will doctors conclude that possibly career-ending surgery on degenerative disks in his lower back is the only way to stop the pain?
Monday we find out if Oswalt can go on with what has been an illustrious career, or if he drives off into the sunset on that tractor, the one that may have driven him to the end. Let’s hope he doesn’t plow the Phillies championship hopes over if the latter is the case.
[FOR MORE ON OSWALT, CHECK OUT MY PROS & CONS POST FROM LAST MONTH]