Jackie MacMullan

Scare provides perspective

By Jackie MacMullan
August 4, 2005

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He is anxious to get beyond all of it; the collage of concerned teammates framing his vision in the seconds after Carl Crawford's line drive torpedoed off the side of his face, the panic in his wife, Heather's, voice when she finally reached him in his hospital bed, the image of his nearly 3-year old son, Mattix, watching his father lying prone on the baseball field and imploring him through his television set, ''Get up, Daddy! Get up!"

''That," said Sox pitcher Matt Clement, ''is what hurt the most."

Pitchers don't waste time worrying about whether they might get tattooed by a baseball. It is a part of the game, and as Clement's teammates attested last night, virtually every one of them has been hit at one time or another by a screaming line drive off the bat of a player just 60 feet away.

''It's happened to me a bunch of times," confirmed Curt Schilling.

''I've gotten it in the shoulder, the arm, the leg," reported Bronson Arroyo. ''But never the face."

And that is the difference. When Clement dropped to the ground July 26 in Tampa and didn't get up, you couldn't help but harken back to former Sox pitcher Bryce Florie, whose facial bones were shattered by a line drive. Florie also sustained damage to his right eye and was never the same player.

Clement heard about Florie, of course. He listened to experts dissect his unfortunate injury on ''SportsCenter," and was amused to hear them debate how his injury would affect his future.

He was discharged from the hospital after only one day, underwent a battery of tests, and was declared, aside from the obvious topical damage, very lucky.

Although normally one of the more congenial members of the Red Sox, Clement was slightly ornery when informed his regular start, which would have been Tuesday night, had been delayed until today against Kansas City to make sure there were no lingering effects from his injury. He understood the logic, but preferred to proceed according to schedule.

''I guess I can be bullheaded that way," Clement said. ''My mentality has always been you don't miss a start unless you are seriously hurt. I know what happened to me was serious, but I was ready to go.

''I always thought when I was a younger and I wasn't a very good pitcher, but had potential, the one thing I could do was go out there every fifth day, no matter what, and make starts. There were not a lot of guys that could do that.

''So, it's hard for me to sit. The positive thing I take out of the extra days of rest is it's probably a good thing for my arm."

It is a very good thing for the Red Sox that Clement recovered so quickly. With Schilling still handling the closer duties, and last night's starter, Wade Miller, battling tendinitis, Boston could ill afford to have its most productive arm in the rotation sidelined for any extended time.

Yet even before Crawford blasted Clement's sinker back at him, the Red Sox were mildly concerned about the softspoken righthander. After posting a glittering 9-1 record out of the box, Clement has won only once since the end of June (a 7-4 win over the Texas Rangers July 6). The Boston brass is hoping this isn't a trend. Last season, Clement began the season with a 6-3 record and a 3.05 ERA with the Cubs, but then won only three more times over his final 20 starts.

Part of the problem was a lack of run support from his Chicago teammates -- rarely an issue with Boston's potent lineup. Still, the Red Sox need Clement to post some W's if they plan on approaching the postseason with a legitimate cache of arms.

This afternoon's exercise in moving on, therefore, bears watching.

''I keep telling people I'm not worried about going out there," Clement said. ''But I can't tell you how I will react.

''I've flinched at balls before when a guy swung hard at a pitch. What you realize after something like this is even if you duck at a ball coming at you, it's probably too late. My glove went up after the ball hit me.

''My biggest concern is not whether I'll get hit by another line drive. It's what that ball might have taken out of me. I feel fine, but you can't simulate your heart rate at this level."

Sometimes a traumatic event like the one Clement has just endured provides a welcome reminder of just how many friends you have. He heard from countless former teammates, both from Chicago and San Diego, including Mark Prior, who was struck on the elbow by a line drive earlier this summer, and Cubs manager, Dusty Baker, whom he talks with almost monthly.

Many of his friends sounded shaken, worried. Yet none were as rattled as his wife, who was hundreds of miles away, and feeling helpless.

''My wife was pretty scared until she heard my voice," Clement said. ''She didn't want to turn off the TV, because she wanted to know what was going on, but she didn't want Mattix to have to watch it over and over."

Clement spent the night alone in the Tampa hospital, unable to sleep. Greg Maddux, he knew, was going for his 3,000th career strikeout, and he wanted to see that historic piece of footage.

''But I knew if I watched that, I'd have to see the replay of me getting hit," Clement said. ''I ended up watching it anyway. It wasn't as bad as I thought."

He is done looking at it. A good start today eliminates it from the highlight reel, reducing it to a freak play that, had the ball wandered just a few inches to the left or the right, could have been devastating. That is the part Clement cannot -- will not -- think about.

''Once in a while," Arroyo confessed, ''after someone has whizzed a line drive past my head, I realize that I've flinched long after the ball is passed. It makes you stop and think for a second, 'What if that hit my head?' "

How does Clement get beyond the fact the ball did hit him, did knock him down, did leave him lying on a stretcher? Is it something you can just forget?

''It depends on the individual and their personal psychological makeup," said Tim Wakefield. ''I'm sure at this point he doesn't want to talk about it. If you talk about it, then you have to think about it, and that's the last thing you want to have on your mind.

''The best thing is to get out and pitch again. You've got to stick your nose back in there."

He's done that, already. Within days after his frightening ordeal, Clement was in the backyard with his son, Mattix.

''The first pitch I threw him, he hit a line drive right past my head," Clement said. ''That's when I figured, 'You know what? I better go grab my glove.' "

His glove is on. Now all Matt Clement wants to do is move on.

Jackie MacMullan is a Globe columnist. Her e-mail address is

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