For Dodgers' Mark Ellis, two big bumps broke up grind of season

Mark Ellis was typically solid at plate and at second base in 2012, but a serious injury in May and a bad decision in October also defined his and Dodgers' year.

PHOENIX — We might picture Mark Ellis' 2012 Dodgers season as a smooth road, with giant bumps at each end.

The statistics mostly reflect the smooth part.

The veteran second baseman, as reliable as your garage door opener, hit .258, with 62 runs and 31 RBIs. He also did his usual remarkable defensive job. Among players with at least 750 games at second base, he is second all-time in fielding percentage, with a .991 mark to Placido Polanco's .993, and stayed at that level in 2012 by making only three errors in 9101/3 innings.

With Ellis, 35, in the lineup, second base is where ground balls go to die. He was so good defensively at third base at the University of Florida that they started calling the hot corner "Ellis Island."

He played in 110 games for the Dodgers last year, third on the team.

So, where were the bumps, and how bad were they?

May 18, Dodger Stadium, seventh inning

Ellis covers second on a grounder to shortstop. As he pivots to throw for the double play, the Cardinals' Tyler Greene, himself a second baseman, slides hard into Ellis. A replay shows Ellis' left knee momentarily bending grotesquely at impact. Ellis crumples in pain.

In the broadcast booth, Vin Scully describes Greene's slide as "hard, but thoroughly legitimate."

Ellis stays in the game, even leads off the eighth inning. But the pain persists, he comes out, takes a shower, goes home and doesn't sleep a wink.

"Way too much pain," he says.

He reports for work the next day, but trainer Sue Falsone, the real hero here, doesn't like the looks of the leg and sends Ellis to a hospital. During an MRI exam, he calls a halt.

"It was just throbbing," he says. "I'd like to think I was tough enough to make it through a 45-minute MRI, but I couldn't."

Quickly, he was being told he would need surgery and, at that stage, was just grateful they were stopping the pain. After surgery and after his wife, Sarah, flies in from Arizona and, in her first frightened moment, lifts the sheets to see the leg, Ellis starts to get calls and texts.

Doctors tell Falsone and Manager Don Mattingly that had they waited another eight hours to operate on an injury in which compartments of blood were creating enough pressure to actually kill leg muscles, Ellis might have lost the leg.

"If this happens on a Sunday in St. Louis and I get on an airplane to come home," Ellis says, "it is a disaster."

Two more surgeries slowly relieve the pressure. He is in the hospital for five days. But by the Fourth of July, he is back at second base.

Ellis admits now that, upon his return, the double-play pivots weren't his best. Mattingly says, "He was skittish."

Soon, time heals the mind and medicine heals the leg.

Oct. 2, Dodger Stadium, seventh inning





Look for this special section in your
Baltimore Sun newspaper on Dec. 29, 2013.
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