PHILADELPHIA — After several minutes lying in the dirt, Dioner Navarro had to be lifted onto a cart and driven away. Hands on his head, the Cubs catcher looked stunned as he left the field to get X-rays on his right leg.
The crowd of 36,171 at Citizens Bank Park respectfully cheered and clapped on Wednesday night, recognizing Navarro’s toughness after a nasty collision at home plate with Philadelphia Phillies star Chase Utley. Even the demanding fans in South Philly had to show Navarro some love.
The Cubs were still weighing their next moves after a 5-2 victory that pivoted on Donnie Murphy’s three-run homer in the ninth inning. But at least they weren’t running through worst-case scenarios with Navarro, who might have a sprained ankle.
“Everything’s looking a little better than we thought,” manager Dale Sveum said.
The Cubs said the X-rays came back negative on Navarro’s right ankle — no fracture — and the injury will be treated as a contusion and evaluated further. Sveum even said Navarro was in good enough shape to be doing squats.
That seventh-inning scene was hard to watch. Utley slid toward home plate, crashing his left knee into Navarro before driving his left shoulder into the catcher’s upper body. Navarro fell backwards but didn’t drop the ball, keeping it a 2-2 game.
“Utley is a hard player (who’s) going to do everything he can to score,” Sveum said. “But it was one heck of a play by Navarro to hold onto the ball and block the plate at the same time. A lot of catchers don’t have the guts to do that sometimes.”
Utley sprinted from second base on Kevin Frandsen’s single into right field. Cole Gillespie’s strong throw landed in Navarro’s glove on one bounce, a moment before Utley barreled into the catcher.
“He’s a baller,” said Travis Wood, another pitcher who likes throwing to Navarro and one who allowed two runs in 6 1/3 innings Wednesday. “He stayed in there and took the hit. We hope the best for him. Hopefully, it’s nothing serious and he can just take a few days and be back.”
Wood didn’t have any issues with Utley, who entered the game as a pinch-hitter in the seventh inning and has reportedly just agreed to a multi-year contract extension with the Phillies (51-62).
“I like contact,” Wood said. “It was a tie ballgame at the time, and he’s trying to get ahead and help his team win. I got no problem with that. He didn’t go out of his way to hit him or anything. That’s baseball.”
Sveum hadn’t seen the replay yet but also wrote it off as “just part of baseball.”
“I don’t think anything was wrong,” Sveum said. “He was blocking the plate. Guys have the right to do that. You want your players to do everything they can to get home plate. You don’t want to hurt somebody in the process, but unfortunately we’ve seen it (before). It was probably the same kind of thing (with Buster) Posey.”
The San Francisco Giants MVP shattered his left leg after a similar collision and wound up missing most of the 2011 season. The Cubs sound more optimistic about Navarro, who’s hit nine homers in 155 at-bats and emerged as one of the more popular and outgoing players in the clubhouse. He got through to Matt Garza and almost wound up getting traded at last week’s non-waiver deadline. The St. Louis Cardinals discussed Navarro when Yadier Molina went on the disabled list with a knee injury.
“He’s that baseball rat,” Sveum said. “He just loves baseball. He’s always smiling, and he’s always talking on the bench and asking questions. He’s just very upbeat. He’s the perfect backup catcher.”
Another strange injury set the seventh inning in motion. Thomas Neal made the throw after fielding John Mayberry’s double, but he collapsed on the follow-through in left field. Neal — who was claimed off waivers from the New York Yankees the day before — dislocated his right shoulder and will go on the disabled list.
In this season of turnover, that means the Cubs (50-63) should soon be welcoming their 50th player (and maybe their 51st).
“As soon as I released it, I knew something was wrong. It just kind of felt like a dead arm,” said Neal, who came back into the clubhouse with the training staff. “They were trying to put my shoulder back in, and we looked up and saw that Navarro was down. It was crazy.”