BOSTON -- The Angels' biggest fear on Wednesday night became their reality on Thursday afternoon: Garrett Richards has a torn left patellar tendon, an injury that will require surgery, scheduled for Friday -- a procedure that comes with a six- to nine-month recovery.
Now the first-place Angels must officially move on without their best starting pitcher.
"You're going to be thinking of Garrett once every fifth day when he was out there," manager Mike Scioscia said. "You might not be able to replace that, but it doesn't mean that we're not going to be able to reach our goal as a cumulative pitching staff."
Richards' season-ending injury -- and, thus, a season-defining moment for his team -- happened on an innocuous play the 26-year-old right-hander has executed countless times.
Brock Holt's grounder was hit to the right side. Albert Pujols fielded it, spun and fired to second. Richards sprinted to first, hoping to complete an inning-ending 3-6-1 double play, but instead he buckled to the ground, clutching the knee.
He was taken off the field on a stretcher nearly 10 minutes later.
Richards was examined by the Angels' medical staff, then taken to Massachusetts General Hospital before quickly being discharged. He flew to Los Angeles early Thursday morning and underwent an MRI at about noon PT.
General manager Jerry Dipoto said that nine months is an absolute worst-case scenario, adding that the injury "should not affect" Richards' 2015 season.
But the Angels -- who had a 1 1/2-game cushion on the best record in the Majors when play began on Thursday -- will be without their most dominant starter for the most critical junctures of the season, be it a division race or a Wild Card game or a Game 7.
Richards finishes his season with a 13-4 record, a 2.61 ERA and 164 strikeouts in 168 2/3 innings, numbers that put him in the mix for the American League Cy Young Award.
"We're going to take it one game at a time," center fielder Mike Trout said. "We can't get ahead of ourselves. It's tough losing Garrett, for sure. But we just have to keep winning ballgames. That's all that matters."
Dipoto, who traded for White Sox infielder Gordon Beckham on Thursday, said the Angels are "open" to acquiring starting pitching through the August waiver period, but cautioned that it's a difficult proposition. An American League player would have to pass through 14 teams and a National League player would have to pass through 29 before the Angels even had a chance to negotiate a trade.
"Between now and Sept. 1, we'll try to be as open as we can be," Dipoto said of acquiring rotation help. "And after Sept. 1, hopefully what we're missing in Garrett Richards we're able to somewhat make up for in volume and depth."
For now the Angels will use Wade LeBlanc, the 30-year-old left-hander who was called up from Triple-A Salt Lake on Thursday. LeBlanc will give the Angels length out of the bullpen the next couple of games and start on Monday -- what would have been Richards' next turn -- if he isn't needed in an extreme circumstance.
LeBlanc, 10-3 with a 4.00 ERA in 21 starts in the Pacific Coast League, will join a rotation that includes Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson, Matt Shoemaker and Hector Santiago -- the remains of a staff that also lost 23-year-old Tyler Skaggs to Tommy John surgery.
"We don't want to put any more pressure on these guys than what they already have," pitching coach Mike Butcher said. "Just go out there and make pitches, be efficient, get as deep as you can into games."
There's some concern because Richards' surgery will be on his landing leg, which, because he is a right-hander, undergoes more stress. But, as Butcher said, "You're also driving off your right leg. Neither leg is good. Either way you look at it, it's not good."
All of the Angels' starters huddled around Richards as he lay on the ground on Wednesday, with Pujols on one knee and holding his hand. Throughout the game, several of them went through the clubhouse to pat him on the back, often finding him in tears while he was propped up in the trainer's room.
After the game they cycled through Richards' hotel room. At that point, Butcher said, Richards had "calmed down," "wasn't beating himself up" and "got focused on what's going on." Butcher visited with Scioscia, bullpen coach Steve Soliz, and trainers Adam Nevala and Rick Smith.
Also present was veteran reliever Jason Grilli, who tore his right patellar tendon during Spring Training in 2010, missed the entire season, then signed with the Pirates the following winter and watched his career take off.
Grilli's advice: "It's terrible, it hurts, and it's fixable."
"He's got a lot of work ahead of him," Grilli added, "but it's a fixable thing. His career is not over.
"He's a very talented pitcher, and he's got a very promising career. He'll be back out, maybe even better. I can't wait. Sometimes when things like that happen, you find the inner you."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.