The sound of silence followed Diaz' drive that struck Holman

August 11, 1993|By Gil Lebreton | Gil Lebreton,Fort Worth Star-Telegram

ARLINGTON, Texas -- It was the sound that scared Mario Diaz the most.

It was a dull, ringing thud. Followed by immediate silence. Minutes and minutes of restless, uncertain silence.

Texas Rangers shortstop Mario Diaz didn't know what to do Sunday night, when his seventh-inning line drive exploded into the forehead of Seattle Mariners pitcher Brad Holman. All he remembered was the blur, followed by the thud, followed by the ringing silence.

"The ball hit him before I had even started running," recalled Diaz, a sensitive, 31-year-old veteran with a wife and a young daughter. "I looked, and he was holding his head, falling to the ground. I thought I had killed him."

You don't think of death when you walk into a baseball stadium. The only game-related death in baseball history came 73 years ago, when Cleveland's Ray Chapman was hit in the head by a Carl Mays fastball.

But for those who saw Holman crumple to the pitching mound dirt Sunday night, something deadly serious was at the forefront their minds.

"Get him away! Get him away from the mound!" players immediately yelled from the Rangers' bench.

They didn't want Diaz, whose face was blanched with concern, to be standing over the fallen pitcher. You keep your distance. You make your mind a blank.

"I tell you the truth," Diaz said, "I wanted to come out."

The umpire informed Diaz that since the ball had rebounded off Holman's skull and into the Rangers' dugout, he was allowed to take second base. The ump had to repeat it. Diaz, numb, just stood and stared.

Every now and then, a ball rockets off a hitter's bat and slams into a pitcher's torso. Only last week, Diaz hit one up the middle and off Chicago pitcher Tim Belcher's knee. Belcher was unhurt.

In batting practice last Thursday, Diaz had hit one sky high into the left-field seats. A youngster wasn't looking. The ball struck him in the head.

"Unbelievable," Diaz said. "I'm hitting people all over the place."

The boy's injury was only minor, as it turned out. Diaz made it a point to meet the youngster and present him with an autographed bat.

In baseball, every now and then, you're reminded that every ball hit or pitched can be like a missile, its target unknown.

Former Cleveland Indians great Sam McDowell has a dent in his scalp and a three-inch scar lacing his chin to prove that. The former came off the bat of Baltimore outfielder Sam Bowens and fractured McDowell's skull. The latter blow was more distinguished, a line drive by Detroit Hall of Famer Al Kaline that necessitated 16 stitches.

"There are certain times," McDowell said last night, "when the ball comes back to you, and it's just a flash. It's like a nanosecond. You just see a huge white area. No ball. Just a flash."

At the time, incidents like that in Cleveland inescapably brought back memories of pitcher Herb Score, the victim of what may be baseball's most celebrated mound beaning. In 1957, one year after he went 20-9 and led the American League with 263 strikeouts, Score's vision was marred in one eye by a line drive off the bat of New York Yankees shortstop Gil McDougald.

He returned to pitch one year later. But Score injured his pitching shoulder, and his promising career swiftly faded into the shadows.

One of the ironies of the Diaz-Holman incident Sunday was that Mario was once a member of the Seattle organization. The Mariners' Dave Valle and Jay Buhner both came out to comfort Diaz while doctors tended to Holman.

"Everybody talked to me, telling me that those kinds of things are going to happen," Diaz said.

"But the thing that comes to my mind is, if I kill somebody on the field, I don't know if I would continue to play baseball."

Seconds after the game Sunday, Diaz was on the phone to the hospital, inquiring about Holman's condition. The postgame birthday celebration that Mario had planned for his wife, Damaris, took on a more somber tone.

The story, blessedly, has a comforting ending. Holman was diagnosed with no more than a contusion of the frontal sinus cavity and released from Arlington Memorial yesterday. He will pitch again soon.

Mario Diaz, the batter, and Brad Holman, the pitcher, visited in the hospital Monday morning.

"He's really doing fine," Diaz said. "We even started laughing. He was saying how it was better to get hit in the head in the big leagues than in Triple-A, because at least now he'll make his money.

"But he's really doing OK. I want him healthy.

"I'm glad he's still alive."

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