After smashing a liner into Triples Alley at AT&T Park in the bottom of the 10th inning on May 25, 2013 against the Colorado Rockies, Angel Pagan had catapulted the San Francisco Giants into a first place-tie in the NL West. This wasn’t the prototypical walk-off. It was a thrilling inside-the-park home run that sent more than 41,000 screaming Giants fans into an absolute frenzy.
All was peachy by the Bay. The Giants were defending World Series champs and could do no wrong. Pagan’s extra-inning heroics would mark one of few highlights for the Giants in a season where they won just 76 games, though. His left hamstring blew up on the play and would eventually require surgery, a deafening defeat to a crowd that celebrated on that spring day like no team would stand in their way of another run at October glory.
The Giants are a much more complete ball club in 2014 than they were a season ago, but the truth remains that Pagan is the spark-plug that makes them go. San Francisco is just 10 games over the .500 mark, relinquishing a 9.5-game division lead over the arch-rival Los Angeles Dodgers in less than three weeks. The Giants’ tumultuous turn back toward planet Earth has been fueled, yet again, by the blistering absence of Pagan.
History does indeed repeat itself. For the Giants, this likely won’t be the last time they suffer the hurt of losing their leadoff hitter to devastating injury. Since Pagan potentially permanently exited the lineup on June 15 with nagging back pain, the Giants are 4-11. The last time Pagan started a game for the orange and the black, the Giants suffered defeat in unfathomable circumstance: a ninth-inning go-ahead inside-the-park home run on a should-have-been single against the Rockies that bolted past the outreaching glove of Pagan. It was irony in every sense of the word.
Pagan has been officially diagnosed with a bulging disk in his lower back and is scheduled to receive his second epidural since succumbing to the original flareup. There is no timetable for his return, although the Giants remain hopeful that he won’t require surgery, let alone an extended period of time on the disabled list. The biggest problem currently plaguing Pagan is that the pinched nerve in his back, a product of the disc’s bulge, is causing severe leg pain.
According to WebMD.com, this occurrence often requires a surgery referred to as “discectomy”, which essentially removes the disc material that intrudes upon the nerve root, ridding the patient of chronic leg pain. Pagan is seeking diagnosis from a specialist, likely to avoid a season-crippling operation, but is on the cusp of becoming a clear-cut candidate for the procedure. Discectomy is typically performed after four weeks of failed nonsurgical treatment. Recovery time for physical activity is dependent upon several physiological factors but usually takes four to eight weeks.
Pagan’s frustrating proneness to injury is a product of his leave-it-all-on-the-field brand of play. The 33-year-old veteran is a hustler. He pours every ounce of energy into the game on a daily basis. It rubs off on his teammates in a good way. The Giants, as a team, just seem to play at a higher level when Pagan is on the field. He’s managed to play in more than 120 games just three times in nine-year career but was a big component of the Giants’ success during their most recent championship season.
This isn’t the first time Pagan has engaged back problems. While with the New York Mets, Pagan suffered numerous injury setbacks during multiple stints to the DL. In 2011, his final season in New York, Pagan reported stiffness in his back toward the end of Spring Training. He began the ’11 season on the active roster but witnessed his batting average dip to .159 through three weeks, forcing him onto the shelf. He missed over a month of action. Pagan also endured a right-side injury in 2010.
From torn hamstrings to back flareups, bulging discs and oblique tightness, Pagan isn’t just a catalyst for a championship-caliber team. He’s also a catalyst for injury, an honest consideration that general manager Brian Sabean made when acquiring the center fielder from the Mets after the 2011 season. The Giants’ season now rides on whether Pagan can get back onto the field, regardless of if manager Bruce Bochy claims it’s about more than “one guy.”