HOUSTON — In the middle of Game 2 of the American League Championship Series, the play and the players from New York and Houston froze for a few minutes in the bottom of the fifth at Minute Maid Park on Sunday night. With the score knotted at two runs apiece, Astros outfielder Michael Brantley fouled off a slider from Yankees pitcher Adam Ottavino. If you were paying attention to where all the action usually takes place around home plate, within the purview of the television broadcast, all you saw was the pitcher, catcher, umpire all turn to look into the Astros’ dugout and the batter turn the opposite direction, walking with his head down until he was fully out of the dirt circle surrounding the plate.
On the field, Gio Urshela crouched with his hat removed and his hand to his face. Fans stood, craning their necks and it felt like the whole stadium took a sharp inhale of breath. A paramedic stationed with the Astros had been struck in the head by the hard foul ball.
The Astros players seemed stunned. Hands on their heads, some unable to look, others unable to look away. Astros manager A.J. Hinch went out to the field to comfort Brantley, who appeared near tears.
Later, Brantley didn’t want to talk about it and tried to avoid talking about it.
What Hinch said to him: “Keep that between us.”
“My emotions I’ll keep to myself and my thought process I’ll keep to myself,” Brantley said in a two-minute conversation after the Astros secured a 3-2, walk-off win. He offered his “thoughts and prayers” to the medic and his family four different times, and he confirmed the medic was someone that he and the rest of the team know well.
The medic was able to walk out of the dugout and into the clubhouse on his own, holding a towel up to his temple. Astros starter Gerrit Cole, scheduled to pitch Game 3 on Tuesday, accompanied him into the tunnel under the stadium, wanting to make sure he was OK. A cart waiting there took the medic, who appeared conscious and alert, to an ambulance.
The Harris County Emergency Corps, which employs the medic, released a statement saying, “He was immediately taken to the hospital, evaluated and is currently in stable condition.”
It’s the same stadium where a young girl was injured by a foul ball earlier this season, sparking a renewed round of public discourse regarding the assumption of risk, the expectation of safety, and the value of protective netting at ballparks. It also inspired several stadiums, including Minute Maid Park, to extend the netting. This incident isn’t really about that. Dugouts aren’t and likely never will be nor should be entirely enclosed. Instead, the scary, fluke accident serves as a testament and a reminder of how hard and fast batted balls can travel. Even if it’s your job to be paying attention, it’s not always possible to get out of the way in time.
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