ST. PETERSBURG — The stunning sight, and the sound, were horrific, again, Rays pitcher Alex Cobb knocked to the ground during Saturday's game after being hit by a line drive flush on the side of his head.
But the words shortly afterward from Rays officials, teammates and Cobb himself were surprisingly reassuring: He escaped with nothing worse than a concussion and is "looking forward" to returning to the mound.
"I expected much worse," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "So, as it turned out, it appears that we were very lucky, and of course, Alex was very lucky."
"Amazing," said pitcher David Price, who went immediately to the hospital. "He feels good. Just the normal stuff. He's a trouper, man."
The official update from the Rays was that Cobb had "a mild concussion," all scans and tests "came back normal," he never lost consciousness, had a headache and a cut on his ear. Cobb was to spend the night at Bayfront Medical Center for observation and is expected to be released today, though it is too soon to speculate when he might pitch again, with at least a stay on the seven-day concussion disabled list likely.
The unofficial reports from teammates who went to see him were encouraging, too.
"He's the same old Cobb right now," pitcher Jeremy Hellickson said at the hospital. "He's laughing and joking. He's acting normal."
Late Saturday Cobb posted on his @Acobb53 Twitter account:
"Can't thank everyone enough for the prayers. Was the only way for me to make it out of there ok. Look forward to getting back out there."
Cobb, 25, was hit on the right ear by Eric Hosmer's fifth-inning liner and went down immediately, hands to his head, hat knocked off, blood coming from his ear. The force of impact was so great that the ball, which left Hosmer's bat at 102.4 mph, according to the Sun Sports broadcast, ricocheted nearly back to home plate, where catcher Jose Lobaton fielded it and threw to first for the out. Cobb told one visitor he never saw the ball coming.
"That's as square as you can get hit right there," Price said. "The ball bounces right back to the plate — that tells you it didn't graze you, it didn't hit you with a little glance. It got him as absolutely square as possible."
As horrible as the sight of seeing Cobb go immediately to the ground was, the sound of the ball striking his head might have been more haunting.
"Oh my God," said Matt Joyce, who was in rightfield. "Everybody heard the ball hit his head.''
Rays head athletic trainer Ron Porterfield raced first to the mound in a tremendously quick and organized response by the medical staff as the Trop fell silent, teammates huddled by the mound and players in both dugouts looking on anxiously.
"It's a crazy feeling," first baseman James Loney said. "I saw the blood coming out. It's just one of those things where you're hoping and praying."
As ominous as the scene looked, there actually were initially positive signs. Cobb kicked several times, was alert and talking to medical personnel and wanted to walk off rather than be carried out on a stretcher as he was, arms crossed and head immobilized.
"He told me that Porterfield was making him really mad on the field because he wouldn't let him stand up," Price said. "So that was good that he wanted to be able to stand up and he knew where he was."
Hosmer was staggered as well.
"Just frickin' scary stuff," he said. "You don't know if he's all right, and I honestly didn't even want to run to first. I wanted to see how he was doing. … There were a lot of things racing through my mind, and I just kind of shut down after that happened. … It's tough."
Cobb had just rejoined the Rays after attending funeral services in Massachusetts for his grandmother, that after a frustrating Monday outing where the first eight Red Sox reached base.
"He's had a very tough week with everything that's went on; our hearts are with him," Price said. "He's way tougher than I am, I can tell you that right now."
Cobb's father, Rick, and girlfriend were at the game and headed immediately to the hospital. So eventually did several players including Price, Hellickson, Matt Moore, former Rays James Shields and Elliot Johnson and Hosmer.
The incident was the second at the Trop this season — Toronto's J.A. Happ was similarly struck May 7 — and is sure to renew conversation about protective gear for pitchers.
As concerned as all parties were at the time about Cobb, they were relieved by the end of the night. "Hopefully," Shields said, "his hard-headedness is definitely real hard."
Times staff writers Joe Smith and Dan Sullivan contributed to this report. Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]