Players throughout MLB hoping for the best for Happ
ST. PETERSBURG -- The one thing that stood out to R.A. Dickey and Jose Bautista -- the thing that echoed through Tropicana Field as the stadium instantly went silent -- was the sound.
Dickey was in the dugout and Bautista in right field in the second inning of Toronto's 6-4 win over Tampa Bay when Desmond Jennings' scorching line drive slammed into the left side of J.A. Happ's face. Though Bautista didn't see where the ball struck Happ, both heard the noise, a sickening crack followed by almost complete silence as Happ fell to the ground.
As the scary scene unfolded, all that Dickey, Bautista and their teammates could do was hope and pray for the best. The Blue Jays said Wednesday morning that Happ was responsive and doing well at Bayfront Medical Center after suffering a head contusion and a laceration to his left ear. The team anticipated that he would be discharged from the hospital later in the day after further testing.
"It's devastating. I could barely watch it," Dickey said. "When you hear the sound off the bat and it sounds like it hits another bat, it's scary. It is really scary. I just started praying on the spot. That's all I knew to do. So every time any of us could find a trainer to ask how he was doing, we were doing that."
"By the loudness of the sound, I got pretty scared for him," said Bautista. "I started running in toward the mound, then I saw the ball, so I went after the ball. After that it was one of those moments where you don't really know what to do. You know that the play is still alive, but you want to go aid your teammate. It was tough."
Play was suspended for 11 minutes as medical personnel attended to Happ, who was eventually put on a stretcher and carried off the field. During that delay, the fans at Tropicana Field were left stunned and hushed, as were the players and coaches in both dugouts, all of whom stood on the top steps to watch Happ. The Blue Jays on the field all rushed toward the mound and went down on one knee.
As difficult as it was for the Blue Jays to regain focus after seeing one of their teammates sustain a potentially severe injury, it was hard for the Rays to process what had just happened as well. Jennings looked particularly shaken up even as he ran the bases, eventually coming to a stop at third and holding his hands above his head. Bench coach Davey Martinez repeatedly asked Jennings if he was OK, to which Jennings responded, "I'm fine."
"I really hope for him and his family everything's well, [and] for the Blue Jays," said Rays manager Joe Maddon. "It was a really scary moment, and I trust that he's going to be fine. It puts some perspective on losses, too."
Tampa Bay's Sean Rodriguez is the only player in attendance who can say he's seen a more serious and frightening injury on a baseball field. He was playing for Double-A Arkansas on July 22, 2007, when Tulsa first-base coach Mike Coolbaugh was hit by a line drive and essentially killed on impact.
"You never want to see that. It was jaw-dropping," Rodriguez said. "You don't know what to feel at that moment. You don't know how to necessarily respond but to close your eyes and say a quick prayer, hoping everything is all right."
That was the first thing Toronto catcher J.P. Arencibia did. After he ran to the mound, he noticed that Happ was responsive and talking to the players gathered around.
The Blue Jays moved on from there. Right-hander Brad Lincoln took over, admittedly struggling to focus, and tried to block out what had just happened right where he stood. Every pitcher who spoke after the game said it's an accepted risk that comes with the job, but it's not one that consumes their thoughts while they're on the mound.
"When we get up and get going, it's all about executing our pitch and locking in on what we're supposed to do," right-hander Steve Delabar said.
"You certainly know it's a possibility," added Dickey. "Every time you get in the car, you know there's a possibility you could get hit by another car. You don't think about it, but you know it's a possibility. If you dwell on that, who knows how that would manifest in your mechanics or your mentality attacking hitters. I've never really thought about it."
Happ was hit on the 56th anniversary of Indians pitcher Herb Score being struck in the face by a line drive hit by Gil McDougald of the Yankees, an injury that cost Score the rest of the 1957 season. On Tuesday, pitchers across the Majors identified with the situation and sent their regards to Happ and the Blue Jays. Take Rockies pitcher Juan Nicasio, who had to undergo life-saving surgery after suffering a broken neck and skull fracture when he was struck in the right temple by a line drive on Aug. 5, 2011, only to return by the start of the 2012 season.
Nicasio acknowledged that what happened to him -- and last September to pitcher Brandon McCarthy, then with the A's, and now Happ -- is simply a product of bad luck, but that didn't make the recovery any easier. As recently as a bullpen session before a start in Arizona, two starts ago, his catcher noticed he was flinching after throwing fastballs.
"You need time," Nicasio said. "You need strength and you need to stay on line to home plate."
Said Reds pitcher Homer Bailey: "That might be the worst thing in baseball you want to see. Any one of us who get on the mound could [get hit]. You don't even really like talking about it."
"It's always a troubling thing to see that type of situation on the field," added Astros reliever Wesley Wright, a former teammate of Happ's in Houston. "It's not what we have in mind. We show up day in, day out, and to see someone you played with be in a situation like that, it's hard. My thoughts and prayers are with him, and I hope he has a speedy recovery."
That's all anyone could do on Tuesday amid the silence that hung over Tropicana Field following that gut-wrenching crack. They hoped and prayed for the best for a fellow Major Leaguer, teammate and friend.
"It wakes you up, man. That's for sure," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "It's a sickening sight. I don't care what team you're on. ... It's one of the risks of the game, so we just say our prayers and hope he's all right.
"It's real tough. Everyone was stunned and shocked. ... But you just have to keep plugging along, you know? Hopefully, he's all right."