Make us your home page

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Happ's reaction to hit to head shows pitchers a different breed


As he lay on the ground, deathly still, he was unsure what had happened to him. Blood was flowing from his left ear, and he felt pressure on that side of his skull. For a moment, J.A. Happ was as uncertain as anyone of just how seriously he was injured.

A day later, and he cannot wait to get back to get to the mound.

This is the insanity of the position. A batted ball had caromed off his skull, and already, Happ was talking about his return. The Blue Jays left-hander had collapsed in a ghastly image, and he wants his next chance. It is not an exaggeration to say that an inch here or there, and Happ could have died.

And still, he wants to return.

How crazy is this? In some ways, it is like surviving a plane crash then getting back on board another flight a few days later. It is like playing with snakes days after being bitten.

That is the code, however, and Happ signed up for the full tour. You push the risks to the back of your mind, and you swallow the fear. You realize what can happen, yet you ignore it. It is baseball, and you are a pitcher, and this is part of the package.

A day after Happ was hit by line drive off the bat of the Rays' Desmond Jennings, and this is what sticks with you in the aftermath. He wants to compete. There are stitches in his ear, and there is a small fracture to the bone just behind it, and his right knee aches where he twisted it trying to get out of the way.

And still, he wants the ball as quickly as the Blue Jays can hand it to him.

"I would like to get back as soon as possible," Happ, 30, said. "I think you just have to get back out there and forget about it. I don't anticipate it being a problem."

It takes a situation such as Happ's to remind the rest of us of the dangers of standing 20 yards away from the most lethal batters on earth, and you trust good fortune to keep you out of the way of the bullets that fly off their bats.

For a pitcher, for any pitcher, that is always the risk. Any one of them could be the next Happ. All it takes is the wrong fastball, the hanging curve, and a hitter with a notion of driving the ball up the middle.

It has always been the same in baseball. Fifty-six years earlier, down to the night, Gil McDougald bounced a ball off the face of Herb Score, a play that essentially ended Score's career. It was the same last September, when Brandon McCarthy of the A's was hit in the face by the Angels' Erick Aybar and underwent a two-hour surgery to relieve cranial pressure.

It is dangerous stuff, this pitching. True, a pitched ball can do its damage to a batter, but the batter can use elbow pads and ankle pads, and he is braced for the pitch from the outset. A pitcher whips his body into motion, always trying to get a little something extra on a pitch, and a result, he can be in an awkward position as a batted ball, traveling 110-120 mph, screams toward him.

"I just remember releasing the ball," Happ said. "I don't remember seeing it (coming at him). There was an immediate loud ringing in my ear, and there was pressure in my ear, and I was on the ground. I was very fortunate."

On Wednesday, Happ saw the video of the play. His reaction?

"I thought I made a decent pitch," he said. "I was frustrated."

And there you go. A little blood, a little fracture. No big deal.

You want to know the risks? Ask the Rays.

Two years ago, David Price was hit just below the collarbone by Mike Aviles of the Red Sox. Earlier this year, Adam Jones of the Orioles hit him just off the groin. Jeremy Hellickson can still tell you how much it hurt when Prince Fielder drove one off his shin, a ball he never saw coming. And Jeff Niemann suffered a fracture when Adam Lind's drive up the middle bounced off his ankle.

An inch here, and inch there, and all of those balls could have been to the head.

"I had a ball hit at my stomach at about 110 miles an hour in spring training," the Rays' Alex Cobb said. "I was lucky enough to get my glove on it. But it could have been at my chin, and I might not have been able to get the glove up.

"We all know what can happen out there, but you don't think about it. So many other things are going on out there that, until you have a close call, you don't think about it."

And the risks?

"To me, it's like a NASCAR driver having a wreck and wanting to get back in there," Cobb said. "Happ is going to have that fight. It's why he's a major-league pitcher."

Price has an unusual way of looking at the danger.

"Everyone's job has a part where you can get hurt," he said, "whether it's using a stapler or Super Glue. In every job, you have a chance of getting hurt."

A stapler? Who throws a 98 mph stapler?

That reveals a bit of the mind-set, too. For a pitcher, getting hit is no worse than a staple in the thumb. It's not injury, it's inconvenience.

And next time?

That's the point. You try not to think about a next time.

Happ's reaction to hit to head shows pitchers a different breed 05/08/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 8, 2013 11:05pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Calm (Largo) and clamorous (St. Petersburg) converge Friday night


    If Largo and St. Petersburg high schools are going to be successful this football season, it will be because of defense. And if those defenses are going to be successful, it will be because of secondaries that are potentially the best in Pinellas County.

    St. Petersburg High School CB Anthony Johnson  practices with his team Monday, Aug. 21, 2017.
  2. Rays morning after: Secret to Alex Colome's success is staying cool, calm, collected


    The ninth inning couldn't have started much worse for Rays closer Alex Colome on Tuesday, who took over with a 6-4 lead and quickly allowed a single and a double to bring the tying run to the plate.

  3. How will former USF assistant Tom Allen fare at Indiana?


    Big Ten Network analyst Gerry DiNardo doesn't sound particularly optimistic about Tom Allen's chances of keeping Indiana competitive in his first year as the Hoosiers' head coach.

    "He has some challenges," DiNardo said.

  4. ESPN cites safety in removing Robert Lee from UVA broadcast due to name (w/video)


    ESPN has removed an announcer from its broadcast of the University of Virginia's first football game next month because he has the same name as a Confederate general memorialized in statues that are being taken down across the country.

    Louisville lines up for a play against Virginia during an NCAA college football game in Charlottesville, Va., in 2016 ESPN broadcaster Robert Lee will not work Virginia's season opener because of recent violence in Charlottesville sparked by the decision to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. A spokeswoman for ESPN says Lee has been moved to Youngstown State's game at Pittsburgh on the ACC Network on Sept. 2. The network says the decision was made "as the tragic events in Charlottesville were unfolding, simply because of the coincidence of his name." [Associated Press]
  5. Celtics were only team in position to deal for Kyrie Irving


    The Cavaliers found themselves in a seemingly impossible situation when it came to trading Kyrie Irving. Not only did Cleveland need to try to extract the kind of price a team looks to get to trade its star — some combination of cap relief, young players and draft picks — it also needed to acquire talent to …

    Kyrie Irving, left, is guarded by Stephen Curry during the NBA Finals last season. [Associated Press]