Alex Gordon was down, and the stunned faces told you the Kansas City Royals were down, too.
They hurt for Alex Gordon, and in some way they probably hurt for themselves, too. The Royals have had something special going, all the way back to last October, with what has been the American League's best team and what is undeniably baseball's most energized fanbase.
Have you seen the All-Star voting totals?
This was it. This was going to be the year, even more than last year. This was the Royals' big chance in what may well be a small window to win, and the only thing that scared some Royals officials was how perfect everything seemed to be.
As one of those officials was saying just a few days back, their team responds better when it's challenged.
Well, now they have a challenge. Now it's not all perfect, with Gordon out for what Royals manager Ned Yost admitted could be months due to a severe groin strain.
Now we'll see them respond.
Actually, we saw it already. Gordon was hurt in the fourth inning Wednesday night at Kauffman Stadium, as he tried to run down a Logan Forsythe drive that turned into a game-tying inside-the-park home run. Before the inning was over, the stunned Royals had watched the Tampa Bay Rays take the lead, 3-2.
The game seemed to have turned when Gordon went down. Heck, the entire season seemed to have turned.
Then, just as suddenly, the game turned again. Maybe the season did, too.
Jarrod Dyson, who replaced Gordon in left field, caught a John Jaso line drive and turned it into a double play by throwing Brandon Guyer out at the plate. One inning later, the Royals scored five times off Chris Archer, the All-Star pitcher who had allowed just six runs in his first seven road starts combined.
Later, Dyson hit an inside-the-park home run of his own, making it nine Royals runs off Archer, more than he'd ever allowed in 77 prior major league starts. In the end, this was a 9-7 Royals win, their 49th of the season.
Does that mean Dyson will do everything for the Royals that Gordon has done? No, of course not.
"He means so much to this team," Dyson himself told Joel Goldberg of Fox Sports Kansas City immediately after the game. "We're going to really miss him."
He means so much to the team and to the Royals fans.
When your favorite Royals player gets hurt! @KCTV5 http://t.co/0hbhJB2HsK2015-7-9 03:27:56
Yes, they will miss him, just as the Detroit Tigers will miss Miguel Cabrera, the All-Star whose injury last week seemed to have turned the AL Central completely over to the Royals.
Injuries do change seasons, but injuries also create opportunities, and the injury to their All-Star left fielder gives this Royals team another opportunity to demonstrate exactly how it has grown over the last two or three seasons. The Royals can get through this, just as they got through the four-run deficit they faced in the eighth inning of that Wild Card Game last Sept. 30 against the Oakland A's.
They can overcome it, just as they've overcome the loss of James Shields to free agency.
Remember, when the Royals traded Wil Myers for Shields, their window to win supposedly lasted only through 2014, because that was when Shields would bolt for big money elsewhere.
He bolted. They're winning even more.
They also know the window won't be open forever. They don't expect Eric Hosmer to stay beyond 2017, when he can be a free agent. They know that they're already overpaying for their amazing bullpen, and that it's not financially sustainable to keep doing that.
They hear rival executives tell them that this year is probably their best chance at winning it all, and they don't totally disagree.
It's why they've been so determined to land another starting pitcher on this month's trade market, why they've followed pitchers like Mike Leake of the Cincinnati Reds and Scott Kazmir of the A's. It's why they no doubt were following Wednesday's other injury news with interest, because Kazmir left his start against the New York Yankees after just three innings with what was called left triceps tightness (Kazmir later told reporters that it wasn't serious).
None of that changed when Alex Gordon was lying on the warning track in left field Wednesday night, in front of stunned teammates and equally stunned fans. None of it changed when Gordon was carted off the field or even when Yost delivered the news about him after the game.
This isn't going to be easy. Royals beat writer Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star reported on Twitter that the clubhouse was "devastated" by the injury, that the players had trouble even smiling about the win:
Andy McCullough @McCulloughTimes
Dyson on Alex Gordon: "That's a devastating moment for the team and the organization and the city. Because he means so much to us and them."2015-7-9 03:54:18
But McCullough also quoted one unnamed Royal as saying, "Now we'll see what we're made of."
Yes, we will see what they're made of.
The guess here is that we'll continue to be impressed.
Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.
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