August 23, 2013

MLB: Hitting batter can do much more than send message

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi was livid, veins bulging in his neck, as he peppered home plate umpire Brian O'Nora with profanity after Boston's Ryan Dempster hit Alex Rodriguez in the left elbow on a 3-0 pitch.

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Atlanta Braves' Jason Heyward, center, is helped by New York Mets catcher John Buck, left, and umpire Greg Gibson after being hit by a 90 mph fastball thrown by New York Mets pitcher Jonathon Niese during the sixth inning of a baseball game at Citi Field, Wednesday in New York. Heyward was taken to the hospital for x-rays. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

AP

Red Sox fans proclaimed Dempster a hero and many folks wondered why Girardi would stand up so forcefully over the plunking of a player regarded by many as the scourge of baseball. Three days later, they got their answer.

In the span of just a few hours Wednesday night, Jason Heyward's jaw was broken by an errant pitch in a Braves-Mets game, and a floating knuckleball broke the left hand of Yankees infielder Jayson Nix. Neither pitcher in those instances earned a suspension like Dempster. But the accidental injuries underlined Girardi's point about just how dangerous it can be when a pitcher decides to take matters into his own hands.

One little slip, one sweaty palm, one ill-timed flick of the wrist can mean the difference between some harmless chin music that can back off a hitter, and a whistling pellet that can end a career, or worse.

"Yeah, that's my point," Girardi said this week. "And obviously, Jason Heyward gets hit in the jaw, and you know that you're not trying to hit someone in the face, but it happens. And it can change a player's life. It can change a lot of things. It can change a season, and it's something that I'm very adamant about."

Dempster, who has not acknowledged any wrongdoing, was suspended five games and fined $2,500 for intentionally throwing at Rodriguez, the Yankees third baseman embroiled in a performance-enhancing drugs scandal and playing while appealing a 211-game suspension. Whether a pitcher is trying to send a message -- as Major League Baseball officials believe Dempster was doing -- or simply has one get away from him while trying to establish control of the inside part of the plate, the results can sometimes be catastrophic.

Red Sox fans know all about that.

Beloved young star Tony Conigliaro was hit on the left cheekbone by a pitch from California's Jack Hamilton in 1967. He was carried off the field on a stretcher in a frightening scene and suffered severe damage to his left orbital bone, retina and jaw. He had to retire early because of problems with his vision.

Cleveland's Ray Chapman died after being hit in the head by a pitch from the Yankees' Carl Mays in 1920. Mickey Cochrane's skull was fractured and he was knocked unconscious after being hit by a pitch from Yankee Irving Hadley in 1937, ending the Hall of Famer's career. The careers of Dickie Thon, Adam Greenberg and many others were altered after they were hit by pitches.

For hitters and pitchers alike, there is a conscious effort to block out the idea of baseball as a contact sport.

"It's scary," Marlins closer Steve Cishek said. "I've hit two guys in the head or the face in my career. Both times I did it, it was 0-2.

"You don't want to do that. It's part of the game," he said. "For the most part it's not on purpose. But it's tough to bounce back from something like that. If you hit someone in the face, it's the last thing you want to do. When I did it, it kind of got in my head a little bit."

Marlins first baseman Logan Morrison physically shuddered when he saw replays of Heyward getting hit by the Mets. Heyward had surgery on his right jaw this week and could miss the rest of the regular season.

(Continued on page 2)

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