Celebrating safely -- it's not just for prom anymore.
The increasingly frenzied celebration of walk-off home runs may have danced its last, thanks to Los Angeles Angels first baseman Kendry Morales, who broke his leg after landing awkwardly on home plate Saturday.
The Braves, who entering Wednesday's games were tied with the Angels for most walk-off wins with six, have raised the walk-off mob into an art form. However, manager Bobby Cox said he thinks it has gotten out of hand. He planned to caution the team Thursday at the regular scouting meeting before the Braves' road series against the Dodgers.
"It takes almost nothing to do an ankle, let alone break a leg, ankles and shoulders and fingers," Cox said. "You can get hurt."
Backup catcher David Ross wants to keep raging. It was Ross who instigated the "walk-off walk-off." After center fielder Nate McLouth hit a game-winning home run in April, he pranked McLouth by ushering teammates into the tunnel leading to the clubhouse, leaving McLouth to cross home plate alone.
"When somebody gets a walk-off, we’re running full speed after him, trying to tackle him," Ross said. "That’s part of the excitement. That's the joy about this game."
The vortex of a walk-off celebration isn't exactly a safe place. On top of the seeming sprained-ankle recipe of a leap into a crowd of teammates and their feet, there's also buddy-on-buddy assault.
"Oh, we punch them in the stomach as hard as we can," Ross said. "I wanted to kill Tim Hudson. That walk-off base hit against the Pirates [last year], he was giving me a charley horse, kneeing me in the thigh. I wanted to kill him, but it was all in good fun."
Even the 69-year-old Cox doesn't get a pass.
"I remember when ‘Frenchy' [Jeff Francoeur] and ‘Mac' [Brian McCann] came up here, Frenchy was hurting people," Cox said. "My hand would ring for four innings."
Ross acknowledges that if 240-pound rookie Jason Heyward "lands on you with some spikes on, you're in trouble. [But] I don't want somebody to hit a walk-off and my immediate reaction is, ‘OK, let's be careful.'"
Morales, who led the Angels in batting average, home runs and RBIs before his possibly season-ending leap, may have changed things for good, though.
Following the injury, Angels manager Mike Scioscia ordered players to stay off the dirt surrounding home plate to allow players hitting walk-offs to touch home safely.
One day after Morales' injury, Howard Kendrick hit a walk-off three-run homer, and his teammates obeyed Scioscia's dictum. Everyone left the field under his own power.
Once, players handled walk-off wins with a measure of reserve, saving the scrums for the postseason. Hitting coach Terry Pendleton doesn't remember much about his two career walk-off home runs, only that after one of them Cox told him how little emotion he showed after connecting.
"A walk-off is awesome when you do it, but celebration of it, running out here, jumping all around, no," Pendleton said. "For me, personally, I think you ought to act like you knew you were going to do it or you're supposed to do it, as a hitter."
There also was the risk of showing up opponents.
Said former Braves great Bob Horner, "When I played, if you did that, [the next game] you got hit in the earhole."
Also, staying away from home plate was a courtesy to the home-run hitter.
"When he crossed home plate, it was his home run, his walk-off, his moment," Braves Hall of Famer Phil Niekro said. "So let the people see him. And then halfway back to the dugout, top steps of the dugout, then we'd congratulate him, shake hands. That's his moment right there."
It may be his moment again.
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