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Happ injury makes result of Rays game irrelevant

ST. PETERSBURG — The sound was sickening.

Perhaps there is a perfect adjective, some sort of analogy, that would best describe it, but, really, the only way to put it is to tell you exactly what happened.

It sounded like a baseball traveling upwards of 100 mph cracking someone flush in the side of the head.

That indescribable yet unmistakable sound was followed by an eerie silence throughout Tropicana Field.

In an instant, a fun night at the ballpark turned frightful.

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VIDEO: J.A. Happ is struck in the side of his head by Desmond Jennings' line drive and leaves the game with an injury in the second inning (MLB.com)

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It was the bottom of the second inning Tuesday night. Just another ballgame, one of 162 in the Rays' and Blue Jays' seasons. The most important thing, at that particular moment, seemed to be the Rays trying to shake off Monday night's bad loss and rid themselves of their early season doldrums.

That changed with one swing of the bat.

The Rays' Desmond Jennings hit a ball about as hard as it can be hit right up the middle. The liner struck Blue Jays 30-year-old left-handed pitcher J.A. Happ on the left side of the head, somewhere near his ear.

"A sickening sight," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said.

The ball was hit so hard that it ricocheted into the rightfield bullpen some 200 feet away. The ball was hit so hard that it bounced far enough for Jennings to make it all the way to third base despite running most of the way with his hands on his head, looking back in horror at what he and his bat had just done.

"It's devastating," Blue Jays pitcher R.A. Dickey said. "I could barely watch it. … You don't know what to think. … When you hear the sound off the bat and it sounds like it hits another bat, it's scary. I just started praying on the spot."

Dickey wasn't alone.

"Everybody started praying," Jays second baseman Maicer Izturis said through an interpreter.

As the ball rolled into the bullpen and as Jennings rounded the bases, you couldn't take your eyes off Happ as he lay facedown on the mound. Blue Jay players simultaneously did their jobs — chasing down the ball and setting up relays and cutoffs and backing up bases — while constantly glancing back to the mound at their fallen teammate. Jays catcher J.P. Arencibia appeared torn, wanting to help his batterymate but knowing he had to cover home.

The Jays couldn't get the ball back into the infield fast enough. Not to stop Jennings from advancing, but to get it in as quickly as they could so they could call timeout and help Happ.

Some players raced to Happ's side, while others held their distance, as if they were afraid of what they might see when Happ rolled over.

Happ barely moved except to hold his hand up to his ear. When he removed his hand to look at it, it was covered in blood.

Trainers from both teams sprinted to the mound. Jennings, clearly shaken, stood on third with the collar of his jersey in his mouth. He left the stadium without speaking to the media.

Players from both teams lined the railing of their dugouts. No one said a word. Most held their hands to their mouths with looks of shock and worry.

"Everybody was just stunned and in shock," Gibbons said.

The Rays' Sean Rodriguez, who witnessed minor-league first-base coach Mike Coolbaugh being struck and ultimately killed by a foul ball in 2007, called it "jaw-dropping."

Dickey said pitchers know they are in danger every time they take the mound, but they just don't think about it.

"Every time you get in a car, you know it's a possibility you might get hit by another car," Dickey said. "You just don't think about it."

After eight minutes on the field, Happ was lifted onto a stretcher and wheeled off the field behind home plate to a rousing ovation from those in attendance. Happ appeared to be talking and then gave a quick wave with his right hand before being rushed to what was believed to be Bayfront Medical Center.

Nursing supervisor Natasha Keller told the Associated Press that Happ was in stable condition

What happened for the rest of Tuesday's game hardly seemed to matter. The details of a Jays comeback were unimportant. Complaining about how the Rays' bullpen continues to struggle seemed rather silly.

"It wakes you up, that's for sure," Gibbons said. "It's real tough. … Hopefully, he is all right."



MLB ponders: How to protect pitchers?

Pitchers getting hit by batted balls has been an issue of increasing importance to Major League Baseball. General managers discussed the issue during their meetings in November and MLB presented several ideas at baseball's winter meetings weeks later. MLB staff have said a cap liner with Kevlar, the high-impact material used by military, law enforcement and NFL players for body armor, is among the ideas under consideration. The liners, weighing perhaps 5 ounces or less, would go under a cap and help protect against line drives that often travel over 100 mph. A safety change would require the approval of the players' union.

Associated Press

Happ injury makes result of Rays game irrelevant 05/07/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 8, 2013 12:00pm]

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