ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – J.A. Happ was hospitalized in stable condition Tuesday night and the Toronto Blue Jays were awaiting word on test results for their left-hander after he took a scorching line drive off the left side of his head.
The stomach-turning incident cast a pall over a 6-4 comeback win over the Tampa Bay Rays as a sombre Blue Jays clubhouse post-game was weighed down by concern for their injured teammate.
Manager John Gibbons had little to offer about his condition beyond the running of tests on Happ to assess the extent of the damage, while word filtered out to players that he was alert.
“From what it sounds like so far, he’s in stable condition, he’s conscious and that’s all we know,” said Jose Bautista. “We’re hoping he recovers well and it doesn’t get serious. There’s always a chance of concussion when you hit your head like that, and we’re hoping he doesn’t get any symptoms like that.”
Happ was struck in the second inning by a drive off the bat of Desmond Jennings, and immediately crumpled face-down to the mound, cupping the left side of his head around the ear, blood trickling onto his hand.
Bautista, first baseman Edwin Encarnacion and catcher J.P. Arencibia were among the players who had to fight the urge to run right towards Happ because the play was still alive, with Encarnacion having to retrieve the ball after it ricocheted into foul territory toward right field.
Manager John Gibbons and trainer George Poulis both jumped out of the dugout but had to pause until two runners scored and Jennings reached third base.
It was an awful position for everyone to be caught in, as the game became an afterthought.
“The instinct is that you want to run out there and try to help him but the ball’s live, guys are running home,” said Arencibia. “So I was in between, wanting to run out there, trying to stay home, and as soon as (Jennings) got to third base I ran out there. …
“It’s a gut-wrenching feeling when you see something like that happen. I saw Desmond Jennings too as soon as he hit him and he even winced and he’s got to run.”
Trainers and paramedics worked on Happ for roughly 10 minutes, immobilizing him before carting him off for transport to hospital. Ashen-faced players sat still in both dugouts as he was tended to, while a crowd of 10,273 at Tropicana Field was virtually silent.
Arencibia, among the handful of players who stayed near the mound as treatment was given, said Happ was responsive and talking to the people around him.
A loud round of applause erupted when Happ was taken off the field, ending an 11-minute delay.
“I was down there trying to get loose and keep my thoughts on him at the same time,” said Brad Lincoln, who began warming up before Happ was on the stretcher and was the first of four relievers to follow him in. “That was probably the most difficult part, just being able to try and lock in right there.
“As soon as it happened we all said a prayer for him and it’s a part of the game, unfortunately, it happens and you’ve just got to be able to move on from it and start concentrating on getting in there and pitching.”
Still, the moment was jarring for all in attendance, particularly the sound, which R.A. Dickey described as the ball hitting another bat.
“It’s scary, it is really scary,” said Dickey. I just started praying on the spot. That’s all I knew to do.”
Added Bautista: “By the loudness of the sound, I got pretty scared for him. 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.”
Seeing Happ’s injury sucked the life from the Blue Jays dugout for several innings, but they got a spark in the seventh when Colby Rasmus hit a two-run homer and eventually erased a 4-1 deficit in the victory.
Players routinely asked Poulis for any updates on Happ’s condition.
“It took us a few innings to regroup,” said Adam Lind. “The energy in the dugout was very sad, we weren’t really in the mood, that was obvious. Then we got some hits, and that got our mind off things that were bad and pointed in the right direction.”
The pitchers, who are most directly in the line of fire, didn’t have the same luxury with Lincoln, Aaron Loup, Steve Delabar and Casey Janssen closing it out.
Those who didn’t take the mound had more time to contemplate it, although most understand they have to keep such thoughts from their mind.
“You certainly know it’s a possibility,” said 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.”
The incident was reminiscent of one last Sept. 5, when Arizona Diamondbacks right-hander Brandon McCarthy, then of the Oakland Athletics, was struck on the right side of the head by a liner off the bat of Los Angeles Angels infielder Erick Aybar, and underwent surgery the next day to relieve pressure on his brain.
His wife, Amanda McCarthy, sent out a message of support to Happ on Twitter after the incident.
Just got back on twitter. Thoughts go out to Happ and his family. Such a scary moment…