HOUSTON — The latest face of the Mets’ season of pain stood in front of his locker on Sunday morning, his nose swollen wide, a gash still plainly visible on his bridge, his voice altered by congestion.
Wilmer Flores explained how everything went numb at first, leaving him with the strange sensation of no longer having a nose. So on Saturday night, after fouling a ball straight up and into his face, he leaned on trainer Ray Ramirez for reassurance.
“The first thing I asked Ray was, ‘Is my nose OK?’ because I didn’t even feel it,” said Flores, who was doubled over in pain and had enough blood gushing from his nose to soak a towel. “I thought my teeth went out, too. What you feel, it’s nothing good.”
A day later, it appears that Flores, 26, has caught a break. He could return to action as soon as Tuesday. That’s when he’s scheduled for a follow-up exam with doctors.
“I would think he’ll play this week sometime,” manager Terry Collins said before the Astros completed a three-game sweep of the Mets with an 8-6 win Sunday. “I hope. Unless they find breaks other places, which they didn’t yesterday.”
For Flores, who has established himself as a versatile and valuable player, the fallout could have been much worse. Foul balls going straight up and into the face are rare. Collins, who has spent four decades in baseball, couldn’t remember seeing a similar instance in person. Flores, too, had never experienced anything close.
“I never got hit in my face before,” said Flores, who was injured in the second game of a doubleheader, not long after hitting a grand slam in the opener. “Last time I remember, I think I was like 6 years old, but not in professional baseball.”
But it happens. In July, Astros third baseman Colin Moran endured a similar freak accident. In a game against the Orioles, Moran fouled a ball off his left cheek, leaving him with a concussion and facial fractures that required surgery.
Moran only recently began a minor-league rehab assignment after missing more than a month. Flores’ prognosis appears much more encouraging.
While X-rays at a hospital on Saturday revealed a broken nose, they did not find any other facial fractures. Returning to games may be a matter of how much pain Flores can tolerate.
“It’s the discomfort of everything, you know?” Collins said. “With where it’s at with Flo, right now with all the running, all the jarring, how comfortable can it be? Just for a couple of days, I think we need to get the swelling down a little bit.”
Congestion, a function of the blood in his nose, made it difficult to breathe on Saturday night. That condition improved by Sunday, but it still was hard to laugh, to talk, to move around.
Flores did not rule out returning to the field in a few days and hopes to finish off what has been a strong season. In 110 games, he already has hit a career-high 18 homers. He has 52 RBIs, putting him in line to eclipse his career high of 59 in 2015. He also has a .795 OPS, higher than his personal best of .788 from a year ago.
That kind of output has only solidified Flores’ role as the Mets enter what they intend to be a retooling for contention next season. Long a threat against lefties, he also has been effective against righthanders. Since May 8, Flores is hitting .289 with 11 homers against righties.
Indeed, despite a season that has gone sideways for the Mets, Flores has plenty of motivation to finish off what he has started.
“I feel a lot better,” he said. “Very scary moment. Hopefully, I’ll have to see what the doctor says about when I can go back out there and play.”