The Giants have a two-game lead in the World Series because they been blessed by a leprechaun having a love affair with a unicorn. Any other analysis beyond that is circumstantial at best.
“But why are the Tigers losing?” asks a Tigers fan who started watching baseball last week. Obviously that’s because randomness and clutchiness of a short series is amplified; pitchers make mistakes and hitters miss pitches. If you’ve watched 162 games, you’d understand that. Don’t worry about what you can’t control. Jim Leyland knows this.
What he can control, however, is the handling of players in serious situations. Which brings us to the Gregor Blanco line drive that went off Doug Fister’s noggin and into the outfield in the second inning. It became a scary moment for me once I saw the replay and realized that, no, it didn’t wick off his glove or shoulder, but rather the top of his head.
When Tigers head trainer Kevin Rand visited Fister and the trip didn’t last long, maybe two years ago we’d have thought, “Phew, he’s fine. Now get some outs and let’s play ball.” But we’ve evolved.
The Internet is great because we can all share our opinions instantly and pretend to be sports experts, and I do it on a nightly basis and almost pull it off! But transforming into a medical expert is a more difficult sell. So I won’t speak in doctor terms, but rather what I observed and felt.
We’ve seen line drives cause headaches, terminate careers and even lives. The Brandon McCarthy incident a couple months ago is fresh in our memories too. In recent years we’ve watched NFL football players take vicious hits, then stay in the game and not remember how they played the next morning. They’re uncomfortable, uneasy moments in a game meant to be watched for pleasure (or in the Tigers case so far, masochism).
The one time I saw something similar — and it was VERY similar — in person was a Tigers-Rangers game in 2010. Dustin Nippert took a screamer off his temple which, like the one off Fister’s head, landed in the outfield. Nippert was removed from the game, did post-game interviews in good spirits, but landed on the disabled list.
When Fister stayed in the game after a ridiculously brief examination, it was partially unsettling. The selfish baseball part in me wanted Fister to continue in the game because the Tigers were losing in the series and needed six good innings from him, not one-and-a-half. Of course, that’s a terrible reason to leave him in a game. I wanted him to be OK, and even today think that he is fine. That’s my Internet Diagnosis.
But I can also say that the Tigers are no strangers to concussion caution. Last month Alex Avila took a Prince Fielder elbow to the jaw during a foul pop-up, knocking him out. They were ready to put him back in the lineup two days later, but after he suffered headaches during batting practice, they left him out longer. And I can also hope that the Tigers, who handle injuries way more than me, know what they’re doing here. I don’t want Doug Fister to die or suffer brain injury just because he’s another tough pitcher who wants to win a World Series. We believe him. But we’d rather see him as a World Series loser with a clean bill of health.
Anthony Castrovince did have a good observation on the play, citing a ball that hit David Huff in 2010: the further a baseball bounces off someone, the less force they sustain. It doesn’t mean he’s not hurt, but it does help explain why he’s at least alive and alert. On the other hand, the ball hit is head. It hit his head. IT HIT HIS HEAD. Both sides have compelling arguments, I’d say.
We’re enabled to look at that cranial deflection, analyze it, discuss it, and assert they should have rushed him into some medical equipment. Do what the Reds did when they lost Johnny Cueto in the NLDS to a freak injury: quickly warm up a reliever for an inning then a starting pitcher for long relief, such as Anibal Sanchez. Then start Max Scherzer in Game 3 and Fister in Game 4 if he’s cleared to play, Rick Porcello if he isn’t.
After a night of reflection, I’d have been content with a move like that. With the world watching the mound, wondering if he’s OK or not, Jim Leyland, Kevin Rand and the rest of the Tigers staff don’t have the luxury to sleep on the decision. They need to use their functional brains to serve the best interest of their pitcher’s, and they have a couple minutes to figure it out. They chose to let him pitch after answering some simple questions on the game situation, and they get to live with that decision.
Image via Cork Gaines.