Pirates' Jakubauskas 'lucky' after liner to head
Pirates pitcher Chris Jakubauskas lays on the mound after being hit in the face with a line drive off the bat of Lance Berkman in the first inning at Minute Maid Park on Saturday in Houston.
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HOUSTON -- His parents flew from California to watch the inaugural Pirates start by a son who used to throw Independent League games, for $175 a week, down the road from Pittsburgh in the Washington Wild Things' ballpark. A dozen pitches later, they feared for his life, no matter the career.
Houston Astros first baseman Lance Berkman, who smacked the frightening line drive that struck him behind his right ear and still had enough force to ricochet back to home plate, visited him in his Methodist University hospital bed later that night and apologized.
The Class AAA Indianapolis Indians, whom he left behind a day earlier upon being called up by the parent Pirates, were rained out Saturday and thus were huddled around a clubhouse television when, aghast, they watched as their affable teammate lay face-down on the Minute Maid Park mound, kicking his feet in pain.
Paul Maholm, a Pirates teammate who missed three months of a 2004 minor-league season after parts of his face got what doctors described as pulverized by a batted ball, could hardly watch.
So for Chris Jakubauskas a day later to dress in his blue traveling suit, joke with folks in the visitors clubhouse, then wheel his suitcase toward the team bus and charter flight to Milwaukee Sunday night?
"It's nothing short of a miracle," Pirates first baseman and longtime Seattle teammate Jeff Clement said.
For all that happened around him, for all the shocking and disturbing sights that surrounded the first-inning moment Saturday when Berkman's screamer felled Jakubauskas in a heap and silenced both teams plus the 30,562 in attendance, Jakubauskas almost precisely 24 hours later declared himself fortunate, healthy and eager.
"It's the risk you take when you run yourself out there. I'm glad I'm healthy and nothing major came out of it," said Jakubauskas, 31, who was released from the hospital early Sunday after being diagnosed with but a head contusion and a concussion. The Pirates placed him on the 15-day disabled list. "I'm just lucky it got me in a place where it didn't do too much damage. There weren't any cracks, no brain swelling, no bleeding in the brain.
"They did all the tests and scans, and nothing. Pretty clear. It's just, right now, I'm a little tired and woozy. The pain's gone down. The headache's gone away pretty much. The contusion's going down."
"Pretty much all I remember is throwing the pitch," he said of his second pitch to Berkman, one of the National League's more accomplished hitters. "Until somebody told me that I got hit by the ball, I thought he hit a ball back up the middle and I dodged it and hit my head on the mound. I asked, 'Was it a glancing blow? Did it hit me clean?' They told me it hit me pretty flush. Then I saw the replay of it [Saturday] night, and it got me pretty flush."
FSN Houston, the only broadcaster showing the game, ran the replay just once because it seemed so gruesome at first blush. Fellow Pirates pitcher Jack Taschner, later one of five relievers who pitched the final 71/3 innings in his absence, described the batted ball as "absolutely murdered." Berkman touched first base and then went to the fallen pitcher's side. Teammates, coaches, medical personnel and some members of the Astros' dugout encircled the mound. After about five minutes, when Jakubauskas arose with help before gingerly walking to a motorized cart, the crowd erupted in a standing ovation.
"I heard the roar," he said. "But I was pretty woozy there at that point.
"Houston people treated me really well. I'd like to thank them publicly; they did a heck of a job."
Astros personnel had their own team doctor, David Lintner, examine him first at Minute Maid Park, then they sent him to Methodist, where Russ and Sue Jakubauskas of Upland, Calif., met him.
When asked Sunday if any friends and family came to Houston to see his Pirates debut, he deadpanned, "Just my mom and dad. Which made that a little bit more interesting. But they handled it well.
"Lance came in and saw me," added Jakubauskas, whom the Pirates acquired off waivers this winter from Seattle, where he arose after four years in the unaffiliated Independent League and two more in the Mariners' system. Here was the Astros' five-time All-Star who "came up to see me in the room and apologized. I told him, 'No apology needed.' It was a very nice gesture on his part. A class act. We'll see each other again, absolutely."
The vantage from Indianapolis was petrifying, said Brian Bass, one of two pitchers summoned Sunday from the Pirates' Class AAA affiliate to bolster a taxed staff.
"Especially as a pitcher, that's your worst nightmare," Bass said. "Seeing it happen to somebody you know and who you're pretty good buddies with, everybody was pretty shaken up."
Maholm was emotional. He said the incident reminded him of his own in May 2004 with Class A Lynchburg: "I mean, usually if I know it happens, I don't watch the highlights [on TV]. But when you're watching the game ... The biggest thing was, whenever he was on the ground, that more or less brought back the memories. But his wasn't like mine. You hope there are no effects, that he recovers."
It certainly appeared that way the day after.
Nevertheless, Jakubauskas is scheduled for more tests today in Milwaukee. And he figures to get concussion exams and regular checkups indefinitely.
"Hopefully it's two weeks, three weeks. But that's optimistic at best," he said of the recovery period from his first-ever diagnosed concussion. "You never know. Everybody's different, how they respond.
"Am I going to be gun-shy getting back on the mound? As many pitches as I've thrown since I was 8 years old, and this is the first time I've been hit in the head with a baseball? Odds are pretty good it probably won't happen again. But I'll knock on wood just in case." He rapped three times on the wooden table where he sat, still a tad woozy, to conduct media interviews. "The first thing is, I want to make sure I get healthy again, make sure I get over all the symptoms and I'm ready to go medically.
"I was more disappointed only going two-thirds of an inning. But there are bigger fish to fry. ... I'll take care of this and go day to day. Get back on the [mound]. And we'll go from there."
First Published April 26, 2010 12:00 am