After two pain-numbing shots Sunday morning didn’t help matters, Braves closer Billy Wagner conceded Sunday he wouldn’t be able to pitch this round or the next.
The Braves substituted reliever Takashi Saito on the roster for him for the rest of the division series. By rule, Wagner won’t be eligible to pitch in the National League Championship Series. But his strained left oblique wasn’t going to let him anyway.
Wagner, 39 and fifth all-time on the career saves list (422), is left to wonder if he’s pitched the last game of his 16-year-career. He had delayed retirement one more year for a shot at his first trip to the World Series. Now it will take that from the Braves to give him a chance to even get back out on the mound.
“Depends on my teammates now,” Wagner said in a press conference before Sunday’s game. “…In a week, couple days, maybe it’s different. So we’ll just keep pushing along and see what happens, and hopefully I’ll get lucky.”
Either way, he’s prepared to face the fact that he might have thrown his last pitch. It was remarkable that he even got the pitch off at all, considering he had just strained his oblique trying to field an Edgar Renteria bunt.
“All I know is when I threw it, somebody shot me in the side,” said Wagner, who went down to one knee after making a throw to first on an Andres Torres sacrifice.
Wagner said this injury won’t change his plans to retire at the end of the season, whether he’s able to come back or not.
“Honestly, I’ve had a great career and I don’t need to define my career by having a successful season,” Wagner said. “We all would like to draw it up as having a World Series and everybody dog pile on us, but that doesn’t happen all the time….Maybe it’s not going to happen the way I want it to, and that’s just life.”
Wagner takes some solace in knowing he’s done everything he could to make it happen, including convincing team doctors Thursday morning to go forward with the injections.
“They said normally they wouldn’t do that because you run the risk of really tearing,” Wagner said. “I got asked numerous times: are you sure you’re retiring? Are you sure you’re retiring? They didn’t want to run that risk that if I did get the shot and went out and pitched and tore that muscle worse that I would hamper me for next year.”
Even still, Wagner could not get comfortable enough moving around while playing some light catch to get the “miracle” he hoped for when he walked into Turner Field Sunday morning.
“The problem is I can pitch, but I can’t move any further than that,” Wagner said. “I don’t know how long I could actually stay out there. It just kept spasming and getting further up under my ribs so that I was really starting to have trouble breathing.”