On Aug. 17, Oakland A’s pitcher Chris Bassitt was struck in the head by a line drive. As he was carted off the field toward the hospital, with a towel pressed to his face to soak up the blood, the baseball game stopped mattering and all thoughts were with his health.
On Aug. 24, Bassitt underwent facial surgery to repair a displaced tripod fracture among other things. The operation was a success, and two days later he visited his teammates in good spirits.
You see some incredible things in sports, but this episode goes toward the top of the list. From having his face broken in a horrifying incident, to pitching again at the Coliseum, in just over five weeks.
It’s a testament to Bassitt’s will and determination. Two days after his surgery he was already talking about getting back in action and returning before the season ended, and he kept pushing until it became a reality.
“Essentially there was two groups,” said Bassitt on Thursday, of the people who reached out to him after the injury, per Shayna Rubin of the Mercury News. “One was saying ‘Congrats on a great year,’ and the other group that know who I was and am and said, ‘How long until you get back?’”
The answer to that last question turned out to be as fast as humanly possible, even ahead of what seemed like a best-case timetable. Thursday afternoon, he took his familiar place on the mound.
In addition to everything else, the Mariners were a particularly tough matchup for Bassitt. He’d gone against them twice this year and been knocked around both times, and they had just gotten done beating the A’s the previous three days. The obstacles continued to mount when he got squeezed by the umpire in the 1st inning, denying him strikes on both edges of the plate and the bottom of the zone.
The leadoff hitter blooped a single, followed by a walk thanks to the tiny strike zone. But Bassitt settled down from there and retired his next nine batters in order.
The Hound struck out four, and Seattle only hit the ball hard once against him, on the ground for a routine out. He was on a short leash in his first game back after such a long layoff, but otherwise he was as brilliant as ever.
- Bassitt: 3 ip, 0 runs, 4 Ks, 1 BB, 1 hit, 48 pitches, 82.3 mph EV
If all goes well, he could make two more starts this year, notes Matt Kawahara of the S.F. Chronicle.
Unfortunately, Bassitt’s triumphant return won’t be able to save the A’s in the standings. They’ve been slumping hard for over a month, and after being swept by the Mariners this week, they’re now four games out of the Second Wild Card with nine to play — less than 1% odds of reaching the postseason. That hasn’t fazed the right-hander, though.
"I'm proud of this group even though we've absolutely sucked the last month." pic.twitter.com/MD8ZMtB1TO— A's on NBCS (@NBCSAthletics) September 23, 2021
Bassitt: “I’m proud to be an Oakland A. I’m proud of this group even though we’ve absolutely sucked the last month. It is what it is. I mean, we haven’t done a good enough job to win games, but I’m still happy as hell to be a part of this group.”
Bassitt elaborated in a post on Twitter, which includes some photos of his face stitched up after the injury.
Why did I come back? What’s the point? I’ll tell you why… We are the green and gold. Bob Melvin is our manager. Don’t make excuses and get your ass to work. If you won’t do it then we will find someone who will. This org turns you into a better person and im grateful.
Teammate Mark Canha responded with support and admiration.
You came back for the boys. Cuz your all about the boys and you’re a damn gladiator! You already had my respect Bassmaster, but the work you’ve done over the past few weeks culminating in the return today took it to a whole new level.— Mark Canha (@outtadapakmark) September 24, 2021
Seeing everything turn out alright also drives home how much worse it could have gone. It’s nearly impossible to think of oneself as fortunate after such a one-in-a-million calamity, but A’s fans remember 2012 when pitcher Brandon McCarthy was similarly hit in the head by a liner and found himself in a life-threatening situation having emergency brain surgery. Fortunately McCarthy also recovered and returned to pitching the next season, but last month Bassitt was quick to acknowledge how lucky he was to avoid even more serious complications.
With the relatively encouraging medical results in hand, Bassitt’s positive attitude and relentless work ethic were able to take over. The morning after the injury he texted broadcaster Dallas Braden, “Bullpen in a few weeks. The show goes on.” Indeed, three weeks later he was resuming throwing, commenting, “I don’t need my face to pitch.”
And now, five weeks later, even with his team virtually eliminated in the standings, Bassitt is back. Holy Toledo.