Turns out, one of Jamie Moyer's most important pitching performances of the season was also his last.
The 46-year-old lefthander, who helped protect a three-run lead Tuesday night by recording four outs in the sixth and seventh innings to set up Ryan Madson for a six-out save, will have season-ending surgery to repair three torn tendons in his groin and lower abdomen, an injury suffered on his final pitch of the Phillies' 7-4 win over Houston.
The team doctor, Michael Ciccotti, said he was optimistic that Moyer would be ready to return by the start of spring training, a timetable he said is not uncommon even for a player of Moyer's age.
"This is an injury that does occur at all ages of professional pitchers," Ciccotti said. "The results are pretty consistent regardless of the age group. We talk about age and we talk about chronologic age and physiologic age. There are some players who are older and are very youthful in their ability to heal, and there's no question that Jamie has all those qualities."
One of the key factors behind Moyer's remarkable career has been his durability. After turning 38 in November 2000, Moyer started at least 32 games in each of the next eight seasons, a run that ended this year when he lost his spot in the rotation to Pedro Martinez in August.
But on his last pitch of the seventh inning Tuesday night, when Jeff Keppinger flied to deep centerfield to end the frame, Moyer fell awkwardly to the turf and later limped off the field with catcher Paul Bako's assistance. Last night, Moyer visited with specialist Dr. Bill Meyer, who confirmed the Phillies' diagnosis: a tear of two tendons in his groin and one in his lower abdominal area. Meyer, who operated on sports hernias suffered by Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb and wide receiver Kevin Curtis, will perform surgery on Moyer within 7 to 10 days.
"You know what? You deal with it," Moyer said. "That's life, and you roll with the punches. I'm not going to complain about it. I had a good run here. My time isn't over here. I'm going to enjoy it, make the best of it, and be a cheerleader."
Ciccotti said a typical full recovery leaves a player with 90 to 95 percent of his previous strength in the affected area, which should enable Moyer to continue pitching.
Regardless of his health, Moyer, who is entering the final year of a 2-year, $13 million contract he signed in the offseason, faces an uncertain future with the Phillies. The Phillies have control of four starters - lefthanders Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee and J.A. Happ and righthander Joe Blanton - through next season. Many in the organization feel top pitching prospect Kyle Drabek could be ready to contribute at some point next season. But Drabek is fewer than 3 years removed from Tommy John surgery and has yet to pitch above Double A. And depending what happens with righthanders Brett Myers and Martinez, both of whom will be free agents, Moyer could have a chance to win back his spot in the rotation this spring. He went 16-7 with a 3.71 ERA in 33 starts in 2008, but was 10-9 with a 5.74 ERA in 22 starts this season before losing his spot to Martinez.
Moyer has a limited no-trade clause that allows him to block deals to six clubs. For now, he must focus on recovering from surgery.