Not long after Oakland A's starter Brandon McCarthy was felled by a comebacker off the bat of Anaheim Angels' infielder Erick Aybar, the news spread across the bay, where the Arizona Diamondbacks were preparing to take on the San Francisco Giants.
When someone told Brad Ziegler, the former A's submarine-style reliever, he stopped. Ziegler's career and his life were once in jeopardy as a minor-leaguer in 2004, when a line drive returned the 60 feet, 6 inches from home plate to the mound. Ziegler, like McCarthy, had no time to react, and was drilled in the head. He suffered a skull fracture and some brain swelling.
Ziegler recently talked with the Arizona Republic about that potentially deadly situation:
While pitching in the playoffs for Modesto, Ziegler was struck in the right temple by a line drive off the bat of San Jose's Fred Lewis. Like McCarthy, Ziegler did not lose consciousness, but he felt dizzy when he tried to stand up and needed to be helped off the field.
"That's when they noticed my ear was bleeding, too," Ziegler said. "It was internal, bleeding out from inside my ear."
We know that Ziegler recovered and was back on the mound the next season. This is not about Brandon McCarthy ever returning to the mound. This is about him being able to live a fulfilling life again. Luckily, there are plenty of success stories, such as Ziegler. If you're looking for good news, it's out there.
Red-hot Brett Anderson faces the Mariners' one-time almost-Athletic Hisashi Iwakuma at 6:05 p.m. tonight in Seattle.
Here's the latest on McCarthy, who still has his sense of humor, Tweeting from the hospital bed:
According to San Francisco Chronicle reporter Susan Slusser, A's trainer Nick Paparesta said the pitcher is still in life-threatening condition, but improving. The first few days are absolutely critical with this type of injury and things can change unpredictably.
McCarthy did show progress Friday. He was able to get out of bed three times, he sat in a chair and he ate solid food and was able to feed himself. He is able to recognize people, and while he is not speaking a lot because he is in great pain, Paparesta said, "It is fair to say that he is talking."
Doctors and the team are not even thinking about McCarthy's return to baseball yet. Paparesta said that the first consideration with such a procedure is simple survival.
"First and foremost, we need to look at his life and make sure he stays alive," he said. "This is serious stuff and we want him to live. I think the next phase we would go through is to look at his simple gross-motor mechanics and skill set to get him through his normal active life. ... Then later on down the road, we'll worry about his fine motor skills. We're just going day-to-day and making sure he's making progress."
All around baseball, people are concerned for McCarthy's wellbeing. The San Francisco Giants, who battled rival Los Angeles last night, posted a message on their scoreboard, wishing McCarthy a speedy recovery.
Aybar, the batter in this situation, just wants the best for McCarthy:
"It has been a tough last two days for me as I keep replaying in my head when the ball struck Brandon," Aybar said in a statement released by the team. "I am encouraged and thankful to know he has made significant progress, and I keep praying to God to help him recover quickly and fully. I also pray for him and his wife. Our game is a tight brotherhood, and right now we all wear the same uniform colors."
There is hope. In addition to Ziegler, pitchers have recovered to not only live a healthy life, but continue pitching, after being struck in the head by comebackers. You don't need to look far. In 2010, Marin Catholic High School pitcher Gunnar Sandberg fell victim to the same fate.
Pitching against De La Salle of Concord, Sandberg suffered a skull fracture after being hit above the right ear by a batted ball. Like McCarthy, he also underwent surgery to release the pressure, as his brain had swollen due to the impact. Sandberg went into an induced coma after the procedure. The recovery process was tough for Sandberg, but he was able to return to school in his senior year. He also rejoined the baseball team.
Sandberg's incident prompted high school athletic associations across the state and country to rethink aluminum, and as a result, California made sure that prep athletes are swinging safer bats.
McCarthy's situation can sound bleak, but there is hope that he can make a recovery. Regardless if McCarthy ever touches a baseball again, there's a great chance that things will get better. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow; this will be a long road to recovery, but it is possible.