CLEVELAND — Sometimes, karma’s a busted lip.
Barely a week after admonishing one of his teammates for slamming away a helmet in anger, a bloodied Brett Gardner sustained a unique injury Saturday when his own helmet-tossing episode went awry.
Instead of dropping innocently to the floor after it was rifled against a wall in the New York Yankees’ dugout, Gardner’s helmet bounced violently back to him, unexpectedly striking him in the mouth.
Six stitches, a sizeable clot and a fat bottom lip later, the outfielder sheepishly admitted to reporters that his frustrations at the plate got the better of him.
He said he learned a lesson, too: “I won’t throw my helmet again.”
How badly did it hurt?
“Not as bad as getting the stitches put in,” Gardner said.
It was in the top of the sixth inning of the Yankees’ 8-4 loss to the Cleveland Indians when Progressive Field was jolted by a loud boom along the ballpark’s first-base side. At first, it sounded like something ricocheted hard off the facing of a stadium deck or a box-section window.
Something ricocheted, all right. And right into Gardner’s face.
“[It was] just frustration building up,” said Gardner, who is in the middle of an 0-for-19 stretch hitting.
Gardner’s most recent hit was five games ago, in a victory over the rival Boston Red Sox. It came at the end of a five-game hitting streak, and was part of a stretch in which Gardner had hits in 11 of 12 games.
“Just got to keep plugging away with it, and making sure when you do get a pitch, when you do get a good fastball to hit, you’ve got to take advantage of those situations,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said of Gardner’s recent struggles.
Just before the sixth-inning tantrum, Cleveland had broken a 2-2 tie and taken a two-run lead thanks to a double and an Oscar Mercado home run in the bottom of the fifth. That added to the frustration as Gardner wanted to do something to help get his team back into the game.
As the Yankees’ leadoff hitter the next half-inning, he swung hard at a 91.9 mph fastball right down the middle of the plate. The line drive traveled deep into the right-center gap — 376 feet away. At first glance, it looked as though it had a chance to fly over the wall.
But Cleveland’s right fielder, Jordan Luplow stalked the fly ball and snagged it just as he crashed into the fence.
“To hit a ball like that and it’s an out, yeah, just frustrated,” Gardner said. “I told Boone if I hadn’t done it [thrown the helmet] then, I would’ve done it after my next at-bat. Either way.”
Gardner grounded out sharply to second base in the eighth inning, capping the 0-for-19 stretch he’s scuffling through.
Although typically mild-mannered away from the field, Gardner acknowledged to reporters that he can “get pretty angry often” on it. A few seasons ago at Minnesota, he got upset and threw his helmet.
“It came back and hit me in the head and gave me a big goose egg,” Gardner said.
This time, the helmet-throwing landed Gardner in the trainer’s room, where a half-hour after the game, he was getting six stitches — without numbing fluid — from the inside of his bottom lip all the way out. The stitches go right down the middle of his lip. They made it tough to speak, and might affect the way he eats and drinks. Thankfully, he said, there were no cameras in the clubhouse when he spoke.
Gardner has had stitches in his lip before from a rare — yet more common — baseball injury. During spring training several seasons ago, he fouled a ball off the plate, and it bounced up and hit him in the mouth. Those five stitches went about a quarter-inch to the left of where his current ones are.