February 14, 2013; Port St Lucie, FL, USA; New York Mets starting pitcher Johan Santana (57) stretches during spring training at Tradition Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Barr-USA TODAY Sports

Achilles becomes Achilles’ Heel for Johan Santana

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Johan Santana was on the cusp of making an unlikely return to MLB pitching form until a freak accident yesterday resulted in a torn Achilles tendon, ending the former all-star’s hopes for this season, and perhaps forever.

In an extended spring training game in Sarasota, Santana was hit with a line drive, and as he moved quickly to make a play on the ball, he tore the Achilles. This injury is notoriously difficult and time consuming from which to return, especially for a player who is currently age 35.

In a report on MLB.com, Orioles Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Dan Duquette said, “The rehab is significant for these tendon injuries; He won’t be able to pitch for the Orioles this season.”   

Santana had been making progress to the point of a probable soon return. His control was outstanding and his velocity had returned to a workable level. “It wasn’t a given that he was going to pitch well, but he certainly would’ve come up here and helped us,” said Buck Showalter.

So, the Achilles of Santana is the latest load in the Sisyphean task of the Orioles to answer their pitching woes that hang over their heads like a Sword of Damocles.

What?

Yes, I went geek on you there. Actually, I went Greek. And it probably doesn’t fit a sports blog to pull in three references to Greek mythology in one sentence. But it is descriptively brilliant if you follow it.

1. Achilles – When a baby, his mother Thetis held him by the heel and dipped into the River Styx to provide magical powers of protection. Of course, that one spot became his downfall, as it now has for Santana. If it can go wrong for an Orioles pitcher, it will. The Achilles Heel ALWAYS shows up.

2. Sisyphus – This is the dude who was eternally doomed to push a rock uphill, only to always have it roll back upon him. If you do not understand how that is a picture of pitching for the Baltimore Orioles, well, you haven’t been an O’s fan for long.

3. Damocles – This is the fellow who switched places with King Dionysius, and on the throne found that a sword was ever hanging over his head, held by a single hair of a horse’s tail. Again, when thinking of Orioles pitching, if you don’t “get” the reference, you must have only recently arrived from sub-Saharan Africa.

Contributing to the Damoclean Sword effect of pending pitching disaster is the strange story of Chris Tillman being unable to get more than three outs in his last start – the second time this has happened in recent weeks. He was moved up a day because of the oblique issue experienced by Miguel Gonzalez, who is now on the DL for a time. Though it is considered a brief and small problem, the report is that he could not lift his hand over his head! Forgive me if I sound overly alarmist, but does that not seem like a sort of problem that will not so quickly go away for a MLB pitcher?

But, not to worry! There is another Gonzalez on the horizon … well … way over the horizon actually. The top draft pick of the Baltimore Orioles (in the 3rd round) was a Florida high school lefty named Brian Gonzalez. At 6-3 and 230 pounds, he’s a big enough boy for sure, having recently thrown back-to-back no-hitters.

That sounds good, but they all sound good as they enter a road terribly long and circuitous to the major leagues … not dissimilar to the journey of Odysseus, who … never mind.  

Actually, I’m not sure they all sound quite so good either. Their second pick in the fourth round was a pitcher from Notre Dame named Pat Connaughton, who is also a forward on the Irish basketball team. He is not currently famous for pinpoint accuracy, though it is believed this is due to his multi-sport activity and non focus upon baseball alone. He will play one more year of college basketball before giving full attention to a baseball career.

The first five picks of the Orioles were all pitchers in the fashion of the quests of Athena – ever searching for help and answers to the inscrutable problem of defeating the Titans in opponents’ lineups.

It is difficult to evaluate the possibilities of these young players. Compared to football draftees, baseball picks have less of a certainty of making an ultimate impact. Presuming that top picks are locks to be effective big leaguers is … well … it’s a myth!

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