Jason Heyward lurched forward then lowered himself to the ground.
The response was immediate. Mets catcher John Buck frantically waved for help. Plate umpire Greg Gibson joined him. Pitcher Jon Niese walked toward home plate, concerned about Heyward's well-being after taking a 90-mph fastball -- mostly off the right side of his jaw.
"It's every pitcher and hitter's worst nightmare," Niese said after the Mets' 4-1 loss to the Braves. "I just hope he's OK."
Heyward left the game after he was struck by Niese's fastball. The Braves outfielder was examined by team doctors before he was transported to a nearby hospital, where X-rays revealed two jaw fractures. He is scheduled to have surgery today in Atlanta. How much time Heyward will be sidelined is expected to be announced after the operation.
"Scary, to be honest," Buck said. "You don't ever want to hit anybody in the head. I saw him spitting blood. That made it even scarier."
A silence came over Citi Field after the ball hit part of Heyward's ear flap. The cracking sound could be heard all over the ballpark. Heyward rose after about a minute on the ground and slowly walked off the field alongside a trainer.
"I felt horrible," Niese said. "Obviously, sometimes this game can be pretty dangerous. One minute you're playing and the next minute you're down. I felt terrible but at the same time, I had to try and regroup."
Still rattled, Niese suddenly looked hittable, surrendering back-to-back hits to Andrelton Simmons and Freddie Freeman. The latter scored pinch runner Jordan Schafer to even the score at 1. It was the only blemish in what manager Terry Collins called "another great outing."
Niese allowed that one run in seven innings with a season-high nine strikeouts, the latest indication that his shoulder is feeling healthy for the first since early in the season. Collins raved about the sharpness of Niese's cutter and two-seamer -- two of the pitcher's most important weapons.
"The shoulder feels great," Niese said. "It feels good to be back to 100 percent where I'm not sore after each start. It just feels like in between starts I can actually get some work in. It's a lot easier to execute pitches with a healthy shoulder."
Niese worked out of trouble to close out his outing. Collins ordered an intentional walk of pinch hitter Phillip Gosselin to load the bases. But it created a favorable lefty-lefty matchup, and Niese fanned the lefthanded-hitting Schafer to get out of the jam.
But the outing was marred by the ill-fated pitch to Heyward -- an elevated fastball that ran in.
Said Niese: "I can't remember anything as bad as that."