Bryce Harper is incredibly lucky. He knows it.
Another inch or two up, another inch or two over, and Harper might not have walked off the field Wednesday night at Busch Stadium. He certainly would not have been on a Zoom call with reporters on Friday evening, talking about how he hopes to return to the Phillies’ lineup as early as Saturday night against the Mets at Citizens Bank Park. A 97 mph fastball struck Harper on the face on Wednesday, near his left eye and nose, but he suffered no broken bones or even a concussion.
How in the world?
“Definitely had an angel on my side out there that night,” Harper said.
Harper has replayed the pitch from Cardinals left-hander Génesis Cabrera countless times. He remembers looking at the scouting report, and seeing how Cabrera throws a first-pitch curveball about 60 percent of the time. Harper sat on the curveball, so when Cabrera’s first-pitch fastball came up and in he had scant time to react.
Harper tried to get his hand up to block the pitch. He could not.
The pitch struck Harper, then his left wrist. He fell to the ground and instinctively felt his face.
“I just wanted to see if I was split open or if I was mush,” Harper said. “So I kind of pressed on it. Everything felt fine. I pushed on my nose area. I was bleeding a little bit, but I didn’t feel like it was running water. You know when you get hit or something and it feels like running water because it’s bleeding? I didn’t have that feeling. I heard [home-plate umpire Chris] Segal tell me to stay down. I thought to myself, ‘No, I'm getting up. I'm not going to be out here. I'm getting up, no matter what. If I fall down, I fall down, but I'm getting up.’”
Harper walked back to the dugout. He asked hitting coach Joe Dillon if it looked bad.
“I don’t know,” Dillon said. “Not really. I mean, yeah, you’re bleeding. But I don’t know.”
Harper’s wife Kayla was watching on TV. He contacted her immediately. Harper’s parents found out because they got text notifications on their phone: “Bryce Harper hit in the face with a 97 mph fastball. Exits game.”
Harper eventually FaceTimed his father to tell him that he was OK.
“The first 30 minutes to an hour after, I was kind of worried,” Harper said. “'What’s going on in my head? What’s going on with my face? My body?' All those thoughts creep into your mind, wondering, 'Am I OK? Am I going to be OK?' It was definitely a whirlwind of emotions at the time, but definitely glad to be sitting here right now.”
A CT scan at the hospital revealed he was OK. But he knows it could have been different. Just a couple inches up or a couple inches over.
“That weighed heavily on me,” he said. “I was kind of emotional at the time. A little upset about the situation that happened. And then a little emotional just because I was thinking about my kids, thinking about my wife. I think baseball kind of goes to the side, right? It kind of goes to the side in that situation, in that moment. So, start thinking about bigger things, start thinking about your family, start thinking about your kids. And what if, right? And then you go through seeing the doctor and everything like that, and then you get calmed down a little bit.”
Harper could not play Friday, not because of his face, but because his left wrist was sore from the ball’s ricochet off his face.
“It kind of hit me in that perfect spot, right on the bone and tendon area there,” he said.
Harper said a couple times Friday that other players have not been so lucky. Some lost their vision after a pitch like that. Others never played again.
“My mom is great,” Harper said. “She's a special person, and I absolutely love her. She said, ‘You must have angels with you tonight, they must have known what was going to happen.’ And I agree. I mean, I just I'm very blessed and fortunate to be where I am right now. And I just I can't really explain it to you. I don't think anybody can. It just happened and it hit me, and I'm just very lucky to be sitting here talking to you guys right now.”