St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Juan Encarnacion will miss the remainder of the season and his career is in jeopardy after he sustained multiple fractures to his left eye socket when he was hit by a foul ball Friday night.
It was the latest blow in a star-crossed season for the defending World Series champions, who somehow were 2½ games out of first place in the NL Central entering Saturday night's game.
"This is a serious hit, career threatening," manager Tony La Russa said Saturday.
"The other ones are not to be diminished, like Carpenter's arm, but they're not in the same category. It's like Josh."
The Cardinals have persevered through the death of reliever Josh Hancock, ace pitcher Chris Carpenter's season-ending elbow injury, utility man Scott Spiezio undergoing treatment for substance abuse, and manager Tony La Russa's arrest on charges of driving under the influence of alcohol in spring training.
Friday was a double whammy, with Scott Rolen placed on the 15-day disabled list with a shoulder injury that likely will sideline him the rest of the season, and then Encarnacion's frightening injury.
"We've been figuring a way to doit all year long," Albert Pujols said in a subdued clubhouse. "Nothing surprises us and we keep battling the way we've battled all year long. That's the way it goes."
The 31-year-old Encarnacion was hospitalized for continued observation, evaluation and treatment. The team said in a statement thathe would be re-evaluated daily and that the long-term prognosis was "undetermined at this time."
Albert Pujols kept Encarnacion company at the hospital until 3 a.m. Saturday and visited again before leaving for the ballpark for a night game against the Reds. Aaron Miles, Joel Pineiro and Yadier Molina also spent several hours with their teammate.
"Today he was in better spirits," Pujols said. "I didn't try to talk too much about the injury; I was making sure he wasn't in pain. They're taking care of him pretty good."
Encarnacion was struck while waiting in the on-deck circle in the sixth inning of Friday's game against the Cincinnati Reds. He was about to pinch hit and had no time to react when Miles was late on an 0-1 outside pitch from left-hander Jon Coutlangus.
"It's a freak thing, and I just hope and pray that his eye is OK and he'll be able to do everything and continue his career," Miles said Friday. "That's a scary thing."
Encarnacion was down for several minutes, flipping his helmet off his head while blood dripped from his nose, before two trainers assisted him off the field.
Teammates were shaken by the incident during an 8-5 victory keyed by Rick Ankiel's first career grand slam later in the sixth. Centre-fielder Jim Edmonds helped assist Encarnacion to the clubhouse.
'It's everybody's biggest fear'
"It's about as bad as it gets, as far as what you can see on a baseball field," Edmonds said. "I think it's everybody's biggest fear.
"That's why there's so many arguments and fights over balls being thrown up and in. It's scary."
The ball struck Encarnacion with enough force that it rolled several feet in the opposite direction.
Encarnacion, who missed the first 1½ months recovering from wrist surgery, hit .283 with nine homers and 47 RBIs. He had an 18-game hitting streak from May 30 to June 18, and batted cleanup 35 times — mostly against left-handed pitchers.
Ankiel's emergence last month and a left knee injury had cut into his playing time.
"He's an important member of our team," La Russa said. "You can't diminish that."
Ankiel narrowly missed getting struck by a foul ball during his at-bat in the eighth when David Eckstein swung late on a pitch.
In an effort to minimize the possibility of another such injury, La Russa said he'll move the on-deck circle closer to the screen behind home plate and as close to directly behind the plate as umpires and opposing pitchers will allow, but he knows there's no 100 per cent safe spot.
"The fans are at risk, too, the closer they are to the action," La Russa said. "Everybody likes it, there's just not a lot of time to react. It's just part of the deal, the enhanced experience."
Pujols watched a photographer narrowly miss getting hit in the head by a foul ball during Friday night's game, the ball striking just inches away.
"Hopefully it wakes the fans up, too," Pujols said. "They think they're invisible and they can't get hit by a ball, so maybe they'll be paying better attention."