Baseball doesn't have the obvious violence of football or hockey but the line drive that struck New York Yankees pitcher Bryan Mitchell on Monday is a reminder that danger looms -- a smash back to the mound, an errant pitch, a collision with the outfield wall, a collision at home plate, or a nasty takeout slide at second base.
Mitchell walked off the mound on his own, his face covered with a bloody towel, and you immediately worry about the worst possibilities. He was later diagnosed with a nasal fracture and was to be kept overnight in the hospital for concussion symptoms, but it certainly seems the injury could have been much worse.
Mitchell is a little-known rookie who was making just his third major league start. Eight of his previous nine appearances for the Yankees this season had come out of the bullpen, and he only started Monday to give the starting rotation an extra day of rest. He was leading 3-0 in the third inning -- a chance to earn his first major league victory -- when Eduardo Nunez's line drive hit him in the face and continued on into center field.
You do wonder what the outcry or reaction would be if it was a star pitcher getting hit instead of an obscure rookie. If it was Clayton Kershaw instead of Mitchell, would everyone be talking about the need to protect pitchers? Think about it this way: The rules about collisions at the plate were changed as a result of Buster Posey's season-ending injury back in 2011. If a lesser-known player goes down, does the discussion reach the same fervor? Probably not.
Take a look at the NFL. There is something called the "Brady Rule," which has nothing to do with deflating footballs. In 2008, Tom Brady suffered a season-ending injury in the season opener when he was hit below the knees. For the following season, the NFL instituted a rule that said quarterbacks can no longer be hit below the knee by a rusher defender without drawing a penalty.
I'm not necessarily advocating for any new safety precautions here -- unless you want pitchers wearing face masks, they're going to be at risk as an unfortunate side effect of their proximity to the batter -- but that doesn't mean there shouldn't be a discussion. We've seen the new padded caps, although so far Alex Torres is the only pitcher to wear one. That cap wouldn't have protected Mitchell, but maybe that's just the first step in the evolution of making the game safer for pitchers.
As for the game, the Yankees were already down a man in the bullpen with Mitchell starting. The pen blew the early lead as the Twins went ahead 7-5, but Carlos Beltran tied it with a two-run homer in the sixth. Dellin Betances threw 2⅓ scoreless innings and Andrew Miller, the last reliever in the pen, tossed a scoreless 10th. But the Twins then handed the game to the Yankees with a dropped fly ball by Eddie Rosario. Then, with the bases loaded and the infield in, Nunez -- Yankees fans surely remember his hands of stone -- booted a ground ball, allowing the winning run to score. It was a big win for the Yankees, a bad loss for a Twins team trying to stay in the wild-card race.