In a matter of minutes, following a terrifying, split-second sound that resonated around AT&T Park, the Giants’ list of early season concerns shrunk to one: Buster Posey.
The shaky bullpen. The erratic starting rotation. The experiment in left field. One or two of those issues are likely to persist for another day, perhaps for the entire season. But the 2017 home opener against the Arizona Diamondbacks – on a day that is normally a festive, joyful occasion in the Bay Area – morphed into an unusually subdued affair, the Giants’ encouraging 4-1 victory notwithstanding.
Yes, Denard Span led off with a double. Yes, left-hander Matt Moore pitched an eight-inning gem. Yes, the infielders played superb defense, left fielder Jarrett Parker recorded his first hit of the season and the Giants converted consecutive errors by the visitors into three runs in the decisive fourth inning.
But in the bottom of the first? When Diamondbacks starter Taijuan Walker struck Posey on the side of his helmet with a high and tight, 94-mile per hour fastball? While the prognosis the Giants received later was favorable, if only preliminary, it failed to erase the disturbing images. The sight was horrific – Posey leaning backward, unsuccessfully trying to avoid the contact, then falling backward and in no hurry to get up – but the sound was even more disturbing. It was crisp and clear, and it sent a chilling signal that was heard ’round the park.
“It’s one of the worst sounds you can hear in baseball,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. “There’s been a lot of damage to hitters hit in the head area. Those are always moments when you hold your breath.”
The crowd uttered a collective gasp and then turned silent. Giants trainer Dave Groeschner sprinted onto the field to examine his catcher, with the burly Bochy lumbering along as best he could, a few feet behind. The hard-throwing Walker approached the plate slowly to check on Posey, and afterward, asked Giants backup catcher Nick Hundley to convey his apologies.
“I was a little bit shaken up,” Walker added in the visitors clubhouse. “It’s always a little scary, and I never want to do that. That one just got away from me.”
It’s one of the worst sounds you can hear in baseball. There’s been a lot of damage to hitters hit in the head area. Those are always moments when you hold your breath.
Giants manager Bruce Bochy, on catcher Buster Posey getting beaned in the head with a fastball Monday
After a brief conversation with Groeschner and Bochy at the plate, Posey stood up and walked unassisted into the dugout. He was examined by team physicians, per baseball’s concussion protocol, but not required to undergo more extensive testing at the hospital. He will be re-evaluated Tuesday.
Moore said he checked with Posey between innings and was encouraged because the catcher denied experiencing any concussion-related symptoms such as nausea, fatigue or lightheadedness.
“He said everything was the same,” Moore said.
During his postgame session with members of the media, the soft-spoken left-hander seemed more relieved about Posey’s condition than upbeat about his own performance. He allowed only one run on three hits and struck out two before closer Mark Melancon took over in the ninth and earned his second save.
But again, the afternoon was dominated by Posey – by what was and what might have been. And about how the Giants really spell relief. This was Posey, after all, the future Hall of Famer whose value extends far beyond his batting average, on-base or slugging percentage, or ability to call a game and frame pitches. He is the face of the franchise and, with passing apologies to charismatic outfielder Hunter Pence, the most influential and accomplished voice in the clubhouse.
At age 30, Posey’s list of accomplishments already includes three World Series titles (2010, 2012, 2014) and a hefty haul of individual awards, among them National League Most Valuable Player (2012), N.L. batting champion (2012), Gold Glove winner (2016) and four-time All-Star selection. One can only venture a wild guess at how many children and pets born post-2010 have the name “Buster” typed on their birth certificates. It’s safe to say there are more than a few.
And certainly no one at AT&T needed any reminders of the freaky and devastating ankle injury Posey suffered in 2011. In only his second full season, the reigning Rookie of the Year was attempting to block the plate in the 12th inning when Florida’s Scott Cousins crashed into him, shoulder first. Posey’s left foot appeared to stick in the infield dirt, while the rest of his body lunged sideways. He was forced to undergo surgery and a grueling rehabilitation, sidelining him for the duration of the season and prompting significant rules changes pertaining to runner-catcher encounters at the plate.
Bochy, a former catcher, allows that he errs on the side of caution, both because of Posey’s medical history and the number of balls that deflect off his helmet when he’s behind the plate.
“If he’s catching, and catches a foul tip, that puts him even more at risk.” Bochy said. “Could we have taken a little time if he was a position player? Maybe. But being a catcher means he is susceptible to foul tips. That’s why he came out. That was a scary moment, a dangerous moment. But it doesn’t mean there is something (an injury). Now, if he takes another shot, you’re asking for trouble.”
The Giants presumably have had enough, um, trouble in these opening weeks. The bullpen, the fifth starter, the outfield. But barring a setback, they won’t add Posey to the list. They can exhale, at least a little.