He'll Try to Keep Fear From Going to His Head

Times Staff Writer

VERO BEACH, Fla. -- Kazuhisa Ishii balked at the Dodgers' suggestion he visit a sports psychologist this winter, and the left-hander scoffed at speculation he could suffer emotional effects from the wicked line drive he took off the head against the Houston Astros in Dodger Stadium last Sept. 8.

But stepping onto the mound in a Grapefruit League game today, the first time he will face hitters in a competitive situation since Brian Hunter's shot fractured his skull and ended his 2002 season, may be tougher than Ishii thinks.

And not just because there's a strong chance Hunter will be the first batter Ishii faces when the Dodgers meet the Astros in Holman Stadium.

"He's going to have to be on his toes from the first pitch he throws, because they're going to hit the ball, and in all likelihood, they're going to hit the ball up the middle," said Bryce Florie, the former Boston Red Sox reliever whose career was shattered by a line drive on Sept. 9, 2000.

"He's going to remember that the last pitch he threw hit him in the head. If he can get by the first one and second one and not flinch, that will help, but it's a tough process. He can say it's behind him, that he's not thinking about it, but he knows it happened. You never get rid of it. It's been two years now, and I deal with it daily."

Florie was pitching against the New York Yankees on that fateful Friday night in 2000 when a gruesome scene unfolded in Fenway Park. A Ryan Thompson line drive hit Florie in the right eye socket, shattering numerous facial bones and creating a horrifying noise that could be heard all the way up in the press box.

Surgery rebuilt Florie's face, but the vision in his right eye was never the same.

Florie, now 32, had an 11.42 earned-run average in seven appearances with the Red Sox in 2001 before being released that July. He never made it back to the big leagues, pitching in triple-A for Detroit in 2001 and Oakland in 2002.

"I felt awful when I saw what happened to Ishii; I had a sick feeling in my stomach," Florie said by telephone from his Charleston, S.C., home. "I've been there, where there's nothing stopping that ball from going to the outfield but bones and skull. I hope he does great and can shake it off, but it's a hard process."

Since Ishii's vision wasn't affected by the incident, Florie believes his chances for full recovery will be strong. After all, Yankee right-hander Mike Mussina and Houston closer Billy Wagner rebounded from similar incidents.

But pitching again in late-afternoon conditions -- Dodger Stadium was bathed in shadows for a 4 p.m. start the day Hunter's liner hit Ishii -- could present problems.

"I know he thinks the twilight conditions had something to do with him being hit, but he's going to be in that situation again, with shadows, when it's overcast," Florie said. "I didn't want to pitch when it was overcast.

"I remember one day in Toledo, it was dark and rainy. I was throwing the ball all over the place so they wouldn't hit it, because I was scared I wouldn't be able to catch it. All of a sudden, you're not thinking about pitching. You're going backwards."

Florie eased his way back to the mound, throwing batting practice from behind a screen in extended spring training in the fall of 2000. His first competitive action was an extended spring intra-squad game. Ishii, however, declined to throw batting practice before pitching in a game this spring.

"He's not going to forget what it felt like when that ball hit him in the forehead," Florie said. "But I think being able to concentrate on what he's doing as opposed to looking through one bad eye will help him."

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World