For Kearns, Nats' Win Is Still Painful to Watch

Catcher Brian Schneider gets away with his second stolen base of the season as the ball skips by Jose Valentin.
Catcher Brian Schneider gets away with his second stolen base of the season as the ball skips by Jose Valentin. (By Julie Jacobson -- Associated Press)
By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 26, 2006

NEW YORK, Sept. 25 -- When his Washington Nationals teammates were running into outs on the base paths, Austin Kearns watched from the dugout. When Ryan Zimmerman laced a three-run double and rookie right-hander Beltran Perez worked his way out of trouble in beating the New York Mets, 7-3, on Monday night, Kearns could only fidget, pacing from the dugout to the clubhouse and back again. His side was still sore, his mind still fragile.

Nationals first baseman Nick Johnson remained in a Queens hospital Monday, still trying to get over the pain following surgery to repair the broken femur in his right leg. Kearns, with whom Johnson collided violently during a loss to the Mets on Saturday, is trying to overcome his badly bruised left side, a tangible reminder of the accident for everyone in the clubhouse.

But in the two days since Johnson's season ended, Kearns has had to deal with more than bumps and bruises. One lingering feeling stays with him: If he had pulled up while chasing David Wright's popup on Saturday, Johnson would still be playing.

"It's been tough," Kearns said before Monday's game. "I know Nick's had injuries, and I can relate to him with that, because I've had my share, too. And to see the kind of year he was having, I still --" and he paused for a moment. "I don't even really like talking about it right now."

In the aftermath of the collision, Manager Frank Robinson and Kearns were among those on the field as Johnson was motionless, groaning in pain. Robinson was so distraught that he returned to the dugout without checking on Kearns's mental state. A quick glance out to right told the manager what he needed to know.

"He was pretty broken up," Robinson said.

So he took Kearns out immediately, then gave him Sunday and Monday off, both to rest his sore body and to heal mentally. Neither has gone particularly well. Kearns has been heavily wrapped, icing his side, each day since the collision. He said after Monday's game that he was "going crazy" watching.

"I just spend time looking for someone to talk to," he said.

The most difficult conversation, though, came on Saturday night in Johnson's hospital room, before the surgery.

"I didn't know what to say," Kearns said. "I probably told him 'I'm sorry' about five or six times. But he was just trying to just talk and joke around. It was tough."

Kearns said he doesn't feel guilty about the play, calling it "just a freak thing" that came about from "guys playing hard." But teammates who have spent time with him know it wears on him.

"It's hard for him to sit here and say he's hurt and he's sore, because you got a guy in the hospital with a broken leg," said catcher Brian Schneider, who had a season-high four hits on Monday. "The last thing he wants to do is complain because, obviously, Nick has it a lot worse. . . . He needs to realize, and he does now, that it was not his fault at all."

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