Kuroda incident makes one question rites of retaliation

It’s one pitch, the 70th thrown by Dodgers pitcher Hiroki Kuroda on a Saturday night, nothing extraordinary happening in a game like most others until someone named Rusty Ryal lines the baseball off Kuroda’s head.

Right above the right ear, striking at a velocity, Dodgers trainer Stan Conte will say later, twice what ordinarily causes serious brain injury.

It’s horrific to witness, the sound like none other heard before, unimaginable at this moment what damage might’ve been done.


“I hear that ugly sound and then I hear Rick Honeycutt say, ‘Oh no.’ My knee hits the ground,’ ” Manager Joe Torre says. “Scary. I didn’t know what I was going to see when I got out there.”

The TVs hanging in the press box show replay after replay, and what surely must be every pitcher’s nightmare, although today most would probably say, in a macho moment, it’s surrendering a game-winning home run.

Seven years ago it’s Dodgers pitcher Kazuhisa Ishii who takes a batted ball off the head in Dodger Stadium, requiring facial surgery. Eleven years ago in this stadium Houston pitcher Billy Wagner is hit in the head, and his catcher is Kuroda’s catcher on this night, Brad Ausmus.

A day later the Astros put Wagner on the disabled list.

Maybe it’s the way this diamond in Chase Field has been designed, but it looks as if it inspires such disaster.

It’s the only park in the National League with a strip of dirt cut into the grass, leading from hitter to pitcher -- the only thing missing at the launching point an arrow pointing directly at the target.

A few innings later Juan Pierre lines a ball directly on path to hit the head of pitcher Clay Zavada, Zavada quick enough to flinch out of the way in time.

Kuroda has no such chance. The ball not only strikes him on the head, his arm raised too late to stop it, but it hits him so hard it ricochets like a pop fly, bouncing once and going into the stands.

“My first thought is Kuroda, my second to try and catch the ball” off Kuroda’s head, Ausmus says.

Later the official scorer here will announce “Rusty Ryal is credited with a ground-rule double.”

Ryal, though, appears shaken, his manager meeting him at second base to say whatever a manager might say to someone who has done their job well only to be heartbroken for doing so.

The Dodgers’ training staff is right there. Kuroda is still down on the mound, always alert, eyes never closing, and at one point wanting to know if the ball has been caught. He’s surrounded by Dodgers. There is no blood.

Officials become concerned, though, when he complains of nausea. He’s tied to a stretcher, lifted onto a cart and while leaving the field raises both arms.

It’s tough to know whether he’s acknowledging the crowd’s encouraging applause or he’s reaching for his painful head, a trainer answering the question by pulling down Kuroda’s hands and holding them across Kuroda’s chest.

He’s taken by ambulance to a hospital, James McDonald is called on to pitch and one hitter later, the scoreboard urges the crowd to chant, “Beat L.A.”

Up in the press box, someone who covers the Dodgers for the radio station that broadcasts their games is upset with the Diamondbacks fans reaction following such an unsettling scene.

The other option is to call off the game and everyone go home, but it continues to be played and it’s hard to criticize fans who are going on much like the players on the field.

A night earlier these same players engaged in one of baseball’s oldest traditions: You hit our guy and we hit your guy. Ridiculous, and more so now given evidence of what could happen with a pitch that just gets away.

No one gets tagged with a bean ball Friday night, Mark Reynolds for the Diamondbacks and Andre Ethier for the Dodgers getting hit high on the shoulders, so all ends well.

In New York earlier Saturday the Mets’ third baseman gets hit in the head and is later taken to the hospital in an ambulance. In retaliation, the Mets’ pitcher throws a pitch behind a Giants hitter, his teammates later probably critical of him privately for not drilling the guy.

Chad Billingsley will tell you what that’s like.

Everyone in baseball will tell you it’s just the way the game is played, banking on fair play and hot-headed players keeping their emotions in check and not hitting someone in the head when aiming for the small of the back.

“We’re trying to throw the ball on the corners and you see how that goes at times,” Torre says when asked about the chances of someone being hit in the head in such retaliation sequences.

It’s stupid, always has been, and a few inches higher Friday night and Ethier might still be wondering where he is today.

A guy hits a home run, and the way this game is played these days, there’s every chance someone might get plunked.

The Diamondbacks not only hit a home run in the bottom of the ninth, but back-to-back bombs off Jonathan Broxton to tie it, and if Kuroda isn’t lying on the same mound an hour earlier, wonder where the next pitch might have gone?

Someone might argue the two situations are entirely different, one a fluke with no helmet to dull the blow and the other in keeping with the way the players must police their own game.

Watching someone get hurt is sickening. The possibility that it might be done deliberately in the guise of team play is insanity. It’s the worst message baseball sends to youngsters.

Arizona wins this game an inning later, on any other night a sickening end for everyone in a Dodgers uniform, but the amazing report on Kuroda from the clubhouse is nothing but good news.

As much as the term is thrown around in sports, it really is a miracle finish.