How Alexis Diaz dealt with guilt over brother Edwin's injury

Andy Lyons/Getty Images

IT HAS BEEN six months since Alexis Díaz last saw the video of his brother's devastating knee injury, and he swears he'll never watch it again.

He no longer needs to.

The grief he felt -- and the initial blame he shouldered -- in the wake of Edwin's patellar tendon tear at this year's World Baseball Classic has long since subsided, replaced by an appreciation for present circumstances. Alexis is thriving as an All-Star closer for an upstart Cincinnati Reds team still vying for a playoff spot with the regular season down to its final 2½ weeks. And Edwin is in the late stages of a long recovery, with a handful of successful bullpen sessions under his belt and an eye toward pitching in games before his disappointing New York Mets run out of them.

Alexis and Edwin will reunite at Citi Field on Friday -- on Roberto Clemente Day, in honor of Puerto Rico's most revered baseball player, and six months after Edwin crumpled to the infield turf mere moments after closing out Puerto Rico's triumphant victory over the Dominican Republic. Edwin's knee buckled as his teammates circled around him near the LoanDepot Park mound after he recorded the final out, a jarring turn to what should have been a jubilant moment. Edwin faced a potential career-threatening injury. But Alexis needed comfort, too.

"He was emotionally destroyed," Edwin and Alexis' father, Edwin Sr., said in Spanish. "When they were celebrating, the first one who got to Edwin was him. And he touched him on the back. So he thought that when he touched him on the back was when Edwin got hurt."

Replaying the most devastating moment of their professional lives was the only way forward. Later that evening, around midnight March 15, teammates, friends and family members gathered inside Edwin's room at the InterContinental hotel in Miami. Surgery was scheduled for the following morning. Edwin's season -- on the heels of signing a historic, $102 million contract, with so much hype surrounding his star-laden Mets -- was essentially over. And Alexis, who had been shown crying on the field while Edwin was carried onto a wheelchair, was still distraught. He blamed himself.

"He was sad, emotional," Edwin, speaking in Spanish, said of Alexis. "I saw his face and wanted him to be calm. It was something really painful. He kept saying, 'I can't help you, I can't do anything,' And I told him, 'Relax, I'm going to recover and return soon.'"

Edwin, 29, explained that he was never jumping with teammates; he was trying to avoid others from stepping on his toes while in the middle of the celebration. His attempt at doing so caused an awkward step. Alexis wasn't at fault. Neither was anybody else. Edwin pulled up the video to show him and replayed it multiple times, pausing at critical moments to make sure Alexis understood.

Simplemente me tocó a mi, he told him. "It was simply my turn."

EDWIN'S ROAD TO STARDOM was a lot more straightforward than his younger brother's, as the third-round pick of a 2012 draft that was headlined by fellow Puerto Ricans Carlos Correa and José Berríos. Within four years, Edwin was closing games for the Seattle Mariners. Two years later, he was an All-Star. Four years after that, in 2022, he was a Cy Young contender on a Mets team that won 101 games, setting himself up to become the highest-paid reliever ever. Before this year, he had never spent time on a major league injured list.

"The path was more difficult for Alexis," Edwin Sr. said. "No doubt."

Alexis, 2½ years younger, wasn't drafted until the 12th round in 2015. When the COVID-19 pandemic led to the cancellation of the minor league season in 2020, he was going on 24, not far removed from Tommy John surgery, and had yet to pitch beyond Class A. He threw too many balls, was too slow to home plate and hadn't solidified himself as either a starter or a reliever. Alexis spent most of that year in his native Puerto Rico, working under the tutelage of former major league pitcher Hector Mercado, partly in person and partly through videoconference. There was urgency.

"It was always in the back of my mind that he's got to show up and prove himself right away the next year," Mercado said in Spanish. "So I would speed up the process really quick."

Mercado, who met Alexis while training Edwin in the 2018 offseason that saw Edwin get traded from the Mariners to the Mets, worked with Alexis on repeating his delivery, using his lower half more effectively and establishing a multitude of different routines to account for the infrequent workload of a professional reliever, a role Mercado believed was perfectly suited for Alexis' resilient right arm.

Alexis became a strikeout dynamo for the Reds' Double-A affiliate in 2021, then made the major league team out of spring training in 2022 and spent the season dominating hitters, posting a 1.84 ERA with 83 strikeouts and 33 walks in 63⅔ innings. By the end of the year, it was clear the Reds had found their closer for the foreseeable future. Edwin and Alexis trained with Mercado again the following offseason. The goal was to make the All-Star team together in 2023. Instead, Alexis made it alone; Edwin's injury has continued to push him.

"This great season that I'm having," Alexis said in Spanish, "I'm doing it for him."

Alexis has a 2.15 ERA and 36 saves, one shy of the San Francisco Giants' Camilo Doval for the National League lead, striking out 82 batters and issuing 30 walks in 62⅔ innings. His fastball isn't as overpowering as Edwin's and his slider isn't as tight, but Alexis gets more extension than anybody in the majors -- 7.7 feet on average, the most in MLB -- and throws from a relatively low release point, playing up his velocity and amplifying his two-pitch mix. Opposing hitters are slugging only .349 off his fastball and .212 off his slider, the latter of which he has relied on more heavily this season.

The Reds -- 76-72 and tied for a wild-card spot after losing 100 games last season -- feature a slew of dynamic young position players but concerns throughout their rotation. Their bullpen has been overworked as a result. Alexis' presence has been critical.

"I feel very happy, proud of him, to be able to see my brother doing what he knows how to do," Edwin said. "He prepared this offseason to have a great season, and thankfully he's having it."

SHOWSTOPPING ENTRANCE MUSIC is a must for major league closers, and Alexis' friends throughout the sport insisted he select a trumpet-infused song in honor of Edwin, who had made "Narco" a summer anthem at Citi Field in 2022. Alexis asked Edwin for help. The two of them settled on "Matador" by Marnik & Miami Blue, which is slower at the start, quicker in the middle and every bit as grandiose throughout.

Edwin's fingertips have been all over Alexis' sophomore season in the major leagues.

"He's been watching every one of our games," Alexis said, "and he's been able to help me more than ever."

Edwin was 22 when he debuted in the majors, four years younger than Alexis is today. His advice to Alexis has centered on the aspects that eluded him early in his career -- the importance of scouting opponents and reading swing paths, the ability to disregard blown saves and not blame yourself for losses. Alexis, who will be 27 before the end of September, has been a quick study.

"He's super smart, and he knows what he's doing, knows what he's seeing," Edwin said. "You really don't have to tell him much."

Edwin said everything he needed to say six months earlier, in the aftermath of a knee injury that would wipe out most of his ensuing season, if not all of it.

His words might have set the tone for Alexis' breakout year.

"I told him, 'This season, you need to do your thing. You need to lift the family's name on high,'" Edwin recalled. "'Do your thing,' I told him, 'and work hard because you have the potential to be one of the best relievers in the league.'"

Said Edwin Sr.: "Edwin's positivity gave us all strength."

Alexis still wore the emotions of his brother's injury in the days that followed, when he set up the three-run seventh inning that fueled Mexico's comeback and ultimately eliminated Puerto Rico in the WBC quarterfinals. But by the time Alexis reported to spring training in Goodyear, Arizona, the following day, Edwin's injury was a distant memory.

"I forgot about it in nothing," he said. "I got it out of my mind quick. I remember they had me pitch in a game in spring training and the ball was coming out of my hand really well and I was like, 'Here we go.' And I've just stayed in that same rhythm."

Alexis is winding down his first season as a full-time closer, and yet he and Edwin are already on the precipice of a historic achievement. They rank second in major league history for combined saves by a pair of brothers with 251, just 76 behind Todd and Tim Worrell's 327, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The only other pair of brothers with combined saves in the triple digits (with the qualifier being that both need to have at least one save) is Taylor and Tyler Rogers, identical twins who are currently teammates on the Giants, with an even 100.

Edwin has spent most of his life serving as a model for Alexis. But now he's drawing strength from his younger brother, whose exploits have helped him through a long, monotonous rehab, pushing him to the verge of trimming an estimated eight-month recovery to six. The 2023 WBC marked the first time Edwin and Alexis had played on the same team, but the two of them keep talking about wearing the same uniform again -- except this time on the National League All-Star team.

"Next year, we're going to be there together," Alexis said. "No doubt."

"Either he relieves me or I relieve him," Edwin said. "That would be really beautiful."