- Buster Olney, Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
LOS ANGELES -- Lance Berkman limped into the lobby of the hotel where the St. Louis Cardinals stayed here early Sunday afternoon, ready to check out. He was cheerful, as always, but he was direct in expressing concern about the condition of his right knee: Yes, he is worried that doctors will tell him, after his MRI today, that he has a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
The best-case scenario is that his injury -- he said the knee has felt loose since spring training -- is just a torn meniscus. If that's the case, Berkman will have cleanup surgery and be out a few weeks.
But if, in fact, Berkman has a torn ACL, well, he knows all too well about that. He tore his ACL before, making a benign cut playing flag football. "You might have heard about that," Berkman said drolly.
If Berkman has a torn ACL, the injury would end his season and maybe his career. Berkman is 36 years old, he's playing with a one-year deal, and he's reached the stage of his life when he would have to decide if he wants to go through the rigors of a lengthy rehabilitation to try to resume his career. Berkman is a smart and talented guy, and he would be a natural on television or radio. Or maybe he'd want to coach somewhere or begin a path that would take him into managing.
When Berkman got hurt on Saturday on a simple-looking play -- reaching for a throw at first base -- Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said he could sense the players in his dugout getting down. Berkman has been a terrific hitter for St. Louis, and the Cardinals would not have won the World Series without him, but his impact on the team goes far beyond that, because of his humor and perspective and sense of others.
But the Cardinals have more depth among their position players than any other National League team to withstand a major injury like this. Allen Craig could take over at first base after he comes off the disabled list, or maybe it would be newcomer Matt Adams, who looked good in his first major league at-bats Sunday. We saw last year, too, that GM John Mozeliak will be aggressive in the trade market when needed.
Berkman and the Cardinals will know by the end of the day what they might get out of the slugger for the rest of 2012.
Berkman is circumspect about his future, Joe Strauss writes.
Adams, who stepped into the lineup for Berkman, was a hit in his debut. David Freese went 0-for-4 and flailed repeatedly in his at-bats. He was hit by a line drive during batting practice and seemed to shrug that off -- but he had been struggling, anyway. He finished the road trip 3-for-18.
There won't be a pity party for the Cardinals, writes Bernie Miklasz.
Van Slyke's moment
Before Sunday's game, Scott Van Slyke talked about how his father -- Andy, a 13-year major leaguer -- had been at Friday's game and then Saturday's. And Andy was in Dodger Stadium in the seventh inning on Sunday, when Scott was sent up as a pinch hitter against Marc Rzepczynski with L.A. trailing 5-3. The count ran to 3-0, and Los Angeles Dodgers manager Don Mattingly gave the green light to the rookie; he could swing, if he wanted.
Van Slyke reached for a low fastball and crushed the ball deep into the left-field stands, for his first career homer. And at that moment, the Dodgers' dugout erupted in celebration, with players jumping and screaming and shouting. There are times when a rookie hits his first homer and all the other players will intentionally sit as if nothing special happened, but they couldn't bring themselves to do that after Van Slyke's home run; he got hammered with high-fives and shouts on his way back into the dugout.
Van Slyke was born in Missouri and went to high school in St. Louis, and for him, there was something deeply felt and personal about this home run, he explained after the game -- right after Matt Kemp mashed him in the face with a celebratory pie.
Lance Berkman could have a torn ACL, and if that's the case, Buster Olney writes, the St. Louis Cardinals must replace a big bat in the middle of their lineup and a leader in their clubhouse.