Forget about the playoffs, Darin Downs was just hoping his career wasn’t over. A lot of thoughts go through a pitcher’s mind in the moments after getting hit in the face with a line drive, and none of them are good. So, when Downs was walking off the field last Sunday with a towel to his face, a sharp line drive the culprit, he didn’t quite know what would happen next.
“I could tell I was bleeding, I just didn’t know where it was coming from exactly,” said the 34-year-old Ducks’ ace. “I was worried about my season, I was worried about my career, if I was going to pitch again this season or pitch again ever.”
It happened quickly, as those things always do. Downs, a former Tigers and Astros reliever, was pitching well with one out in the fourth inning of the Ducks’ 7-4 victory over the Somerset Patriots at Bethpage Ballpark in Central Islip when a comebacker hit him under his nose. He immediately went to the ground, kicking his feet in pain, and was quickly walking back towards the Ducks clubhouse under how own power, a trainer by his side.
A CT scan at South Side Hospital in Bay Shore showed no facial fractures and he is slated to only miss one start. Ducks manager Wally Backman said he expects Downs back next weekend. That’s good news for the Ducks, who will surely be counting on Downs to give them a handful of quality starts in the playoffs. Backman has already tapped him to start Game 1 of the Liberty Division Championship Series on Sept. 24.
But it’s better news for Downs, who narrowly avoided a far worse fate in a true example of how an inch here or there can save a season.
“It ricocheted and I had a big scrape on my cheek,” said Downs, who is 3-3 with a 2.71 ERA and 123 strike outs in 19 starts. “I got my finger in the way somehow. I don’t know how that affected it or didn’t affect it, but I’m thankful that it hit me in the nose, as opposed to a couple inches up, a couple inches over, or my mouth because I would have lost teeth, fractured my cheekbone, or worse.”
Although there is a bruise on a finger on his throwing hand, the lefty said it doesn’t affect the way he grips the ball.
“I threw [Friday],” Downs said. “I played catch the last couple days here. I threw off the mound, feel fine, and could participate if I had to. I’m just thankful nothing serious came out of it.”
With nothing of consequence to play for – the Ducks clinched a playoff berth in early July by virtue of a Liberty Division first half championship – Backman felt no need to rush Downs back after a potentially traumatic event. Downs stayed back on Long Island this week when the team traveled to Lancaster, something that was planned even before the injury, and he’ll have another week to get rid of some of the residual soreness caused by the blow.
“You can’t even tell he got hit,” Backman said. “There’s no black eyes or anything like that. Could he have pitched [Saturday]? Probably so. But we’re just giving him a few days because he’s been out a few days, let him have a side session, get him back to his normal routine, and get him to his next start.”