- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 24, 2006

NEW YORK — Jose Vidro knew immediately.

When the Washington Nationals second baseman saw teammates Nick Johnson and Austin Kearns collide chasing a shallow fly ball down the right-field line yesterday at Shea Stadium, then saw Johnson crumple to the ground in agony, he instantly motioned for medical assistance.

The ball was still on the ground, the batter (David Wright) was racing around to third base with a triple and the New York Mets were well on their way to a 12-6 victory. All of that, though, became secondary at that moment to the Nationals’ fallen teammate and the state of his right leg.

“It was pretty ugly, man,” said Vidro, who was only a few feet from Johnson and Kearns at the point of impact. “I don’t know if it was from the collision or from something that happened to Nick, but I just heard a crack. I was like, ‘Oh, my god.’ My stomach got really bad right there.”

The stomachs of everyone in a Nationals uniform, and many of the 45,247 at Shea Stadium, dropped. A few hours later, the extent of Johnson’s injury was known: He fractured his right femur, the largest bone in the body, and was due to undergo surgery last night at New York Hospital Medical Center of Queens, with local orthopedist Peter Dzenis and Nationals team doctor Ben Shaffer performing the operation.

The Washington first baseman was one week from completing the strongest (and healthiest) season of his big-league career. And though there was no word yet, there is concern he might not be ready for the start of the 2007 season, either.

“I don’t know how long this thing will take,” manager Frank Robinson said before learning of the exact nature of the injury. “It’s all speculation right now. But we’re concerned. Everybody in that clubhouse is very concerned for him and his welfare.”

The injury occurred with no outs in the eighth inning, when Wright lofted a high popup behind first base. Kearns came sprinting in from right field as Johnson rushed out from first base, looking over his shoulder to find the ball.

Neither player called the other off. By the time they saw each other, it was too late. Kearns violently struck Johnson, appearing to catch his teammates’ leg with his own knee. Both players fell to the ground, but Johnson clearly took the brunt of the hit. He immediately threw his glove and cap into the air, rolled over onto his stomach and screamed out in pain as teammates, Robinson and team trainers ran to tend to him.

“It was just one of those balls that went in between everybody,” Kearns said. “I really don’t know what hit what or what happened. I just knew I got up and it wasn’t good.”

Johnson remained on the ground for more than 10 minutes as medical personnel attempted to turn him over, mobilize his right leg and hoist him onto a cart.

The incident left the Nationals visibly shaken. Several players appeared to have tears in their eyes as Johnson was taken off the field, including Kearns, who was not hurt on the play but still was removed from the game by Robinson because of the state of his emotions.

“He was in constant pain. When they tried to move him, you can’t describe the sound,” Robinson said. “It affects everybody, from the guys who didn’t come out of the dugout to the guys who were on the field. You knew it was something very painful and very serious.”

The Nationals struggled to play out the rest of the game, their minds obviously elsewhere. By the time it was over, few cared about the Mets’ six-run fifth inning off left-hander Mike O’Connor, Vidro’s two costly dropped throws at second base or the way New York piled on six more runs over the game’s final two innings to run away with it.

Most uniformed personnel planned to go straight to the hospital from the stadium yesterday evening to monitor Johnson’s progress.

“You don’t really feel like playing that last inning,” catcher Brian Schneider said. “These guys came out in the ninth and swung the bats pretty good, but it’s not easy when you have a guy that you spend so much time with in the hospital right now.”

Johnson’s injury was even tougher to accept because of the impressive season he was having. He went 0-for-3 yesterday but still set career highs with a .290 average, 23 homers, 77 RBI and 147 games played (the first time he made it through a season without going on the disabled list).

Those numbers don’t mean much today.

“He finally stayed healthy and showed everybody what he could do, and that happened,” third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. “It’s unfortunate.”

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