PHILADELPHIA -- The Miami Marlins are united in their belief that Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Mike Fiers did not intend to hit Giancarlo Stanton in the face with an 88 mph fastball Thursday night, and they're convinced that he is sincerely remorseful over the misplaced pitch.
But they're having a harder time coming to grips with his actions following the incident.
After hitting Stanton in the fifth inning of the Brewers' 4-2 victory, Fiers threw a high-and-tight fastball that struck Miami outfielder Reed Johnson in the hand.
The Marlins responded by yelling at Fiers from the bench, and said they were caught off-guard when he raised his arms in a combative posture, yelled "Come on!" and challenged them to come out of the dugout.
"Everyone knows for a fact that he's not trying to throw at anybody's head on purpose," Johnson said Friday from Citizens Bank Park, where the Marlins began a three-game series against the Phillies. "I think guys were more upset at his reaction after I got hit. He had just hit [Stanton] in the face, and now our guy is probably done for the year. Then he throws a pitch up around my head that hits me in the hand. So he's getting some chirping out of our dugout.
"At that point, what do you want our reaction to be? We're not just going to sit there and say, 'Hey man, take it easy.'
"He looked like he was distraught when he hit Stanton. He had his hands on his head and he couldn't believe it. Then a minute later he was calling us onto the field. Everybody was kind of confused. He showed a reaction like he was sincerely worried about Stanton, which I'm sure he is. But when he called some guys out for chirping at him, we were like, 'Maybe you weren't as sorry as we thought you were.' It's a little harder to give him that full forgiveness after that."
Emotions in the Miami clubhouse were still raw in the aftermath of Thursday's incident. Stanton, Miami's best player and a prime contender for National League MVP, had set a goal of playing in all 162 games this season, and he was only 17 games away from achieving the feat before the injury. Stanton leads the league with 37 homers and 105 RBIs, and his injury is a major blow to the Marlins' long-shot wild-card hopes.
Beyond the impact on the team's season, several Miami players said they had difficulty moving past the sight of Stanton taking a fastball flush in the face and crumpling to the ground in a heap. Marlins third baseman Casey McGehee, who broke into professional baseball in 2003, said it was the most difficult moment he's endured on a baseball field.
"It was really hard to get the images out of your head," McGehee said. "Seeing [Stanton] lying there and hearing a few of the things he was saying, it was tough. It was pretty gruesome. He's such a big man and such an imposing figure, to see him go down that way just added to the whole scene -- which wasn't good.
"I'm more distraught about him than anything else. Everybody was genuinely and truly concerned about him. You could see people's faces and how much they care about him. It says a lot about Stanton, but it also says a lot about the guys on this team."
Fiers' personal anguish was readily apparent in his reaction on the mound, his emotional postgame interview and his tweets in support of Stanton. Several Miami players took note of his remorse and his concern. They also commended the Brewers for understanding the emotional reaction in the Miami dugout and showing restraint in making sure the bench-clearing incident didn't escalate into something more.
"He has a tough job," Marlins infielder Ed Lucas said of Fiers. "He has to go out there and continue to pitch after watching what he watched and seeing what happened to 'G.' That's a tough situation. We recognize that as the opposing team. We know it wasn't on purpose, and I'm sure he feels terrible.
"On the flip side, this is our friend. And at that point, you don't know what's going on. We're not thinking, 'He'll get some dental work and he's going to be fine.' All we see is our good friend lying on the ground with blood splattering out of his face. It's a tough thing to watch."
The Marlins were heartened by the positive text messages they received from Stanton on Friday, and they're with him in spirit as he recuperates in Miami. But they know it's going to take a while before they can shake the images from Miller Park.
"There was a sound, and I heard it in the bullpen," said reliever A.J. Ramos, Stanton's roommate and closest friend on the team. "He went down and it just made me sick. I was at a loss for words. I thought, 'This is not happening. This is not real.' "