Cardinals’ second baseman Kolten Wong survived a scary moment on Saturday night when a 97 MPH fastball came hurtling at his face. The pitch, lobbed by the Reds’ Luis Castillo, caught Wong on the mouth guard extension of his batting helmet and sent it flying behind the plate.
Shaken, Wong fell to the ground following the hit by pitch, but was quickly able to get to his feet and walk around the infield before taking first base. Were it not for the unique design of his batting helmet, however, he believes he would have lost a few teeth — or worse — to the pitch.
“Right where the ear and the protector connects, it hit me right there,” the infielder told reporters following the Cardinals’ 4-1 win. “If I don’t have that, I’m spitting out teeth.”
That’s certainly been the fate for other major leaguers during similarly brutal hits, including the Mariners’ Mitch Haniger and Diamondbacks’ Chris Iannetta. Facial fractures, concussions and varying contusions are all possibilities when a ball comes at your face at a high speed, and Wong explained that he decided to don a more protective helmet in Spring Training after watching other players sustain serious head injuries.
At least on Saturday, his precautionary efforts paid off. The added mouth guard isn’t a perfect solution for fending off wayward pitches, nor is it anywhere close to being implemented on a league-wide level. Perhaps, just as Robbie Ray‘s recent concussion inspired several pitchers to adopt protective cap inserts, Wong’s near-miss will serve as a timely reminder that some of the serious damage incurred by a hit by pitch can be avoided (or, at the very least, scaled back) in the future.