Louisville Bats catcher Tucker Barnhart happened to look over at the visitor's dugout Monday night and saw Charlotte's manager, Joel Skinner, talking about what just had happened.
"I read the manager's lips," Barnhart told Big League Stew in a phone interview. "And he said, 'I've never seen that before.' "
Skinner was referring to the pitch that Louisville right-hander Curtis Partch had thrown a moment earlier: One that somehow hit Blake Tekotte in the back as he stood in the batter's box, then hit Barnhart in the hand as he crouched behind the plate, and finally hit umpire David Soucy in the knee as he stood behind the catcher.
Barnhart hasn't been playing that long — this is his sixth season in pro ball, which includes 12 games over two stints this year with the big-league Reds. But he's never experienced anything like Partch's pitch. Batters have been hit in the body after swinging and missing. Batters have fouled pitches off the catcher that also deflect off the umpire. Nothing like this.
"It's just a freak thing that you probably won't see again soon," said Barnhart, a 23-year-old prospect for the Cincinnati Reds.
Upset with himself for plunking a batter with an 0-2 count, Partch didn't compute at first the totality of what happened.
"I was so mad that I hit him," Partch said, "that I spun around a little bit, and I look back, and Tuck's holding his arm and the umpire's holding his arm and the batter's running to first base. I was like, what the hell just happened?"
Did the Warren Commission think of using baseball players to prove its so-called "magic bullet" theory? This moment in Class AAA International League play might have been their best bet.
"I could see it hit the batter, I felt it hit me and I could hear it hit the umpire," Barnhart said. "I'd equate it to hockey, when you see a puck deflected off a couple of different things and go into the back of the net."
Nobody was injured, or even in pain for longer than a few seconds, so it's easy for Barnhart to find humor in what happened.
"The umpire and myself had a laugh about it," Barnhart said.
The play was so odd, Bats media relations posted a Vine loop of the pitch not long after it happened:
Zapruder-like! It's funny in an absurd way, like a Three Stooges skit. The ball hits Tekotte, whatever. But then it looks like it hits Barnhart in two places — his hand, which he cradles, and his foot, which he lifts in the air as he hops around on the other one. Before you can laugh at Barnhart, the umpire nearly crumples in pain. It's like they're doing an interpretive dance collectively.
Barnhart said he wasn't hit in the foot — hopping around was just his reaction to the pain shooting through his hand. That's good; another deflection would have been just too much to believe.
"I'd rather get hit anywhere but my hand, possibly except for the male region," Barnhart said. "It kind of went numb on me a little bit. Luckily everything's OK."
Barnhart actually was worried the ball hit the ump in a sensitive area, but really it got Soucy just above his knee. Ouch, but OK.
Barnhart says the Reds organization recommends its catchers stash their bare hands "in the crease where your hip and groin meet," but adds that it's a personal choice. On this pitch, Barnhart kept his hand behind himself, although not that well — obviously. Trying to hide from Partch's "magic bullet" pitch seems pointless, anyway. It was going to find them all.
For what it's worth, Barnhart has had good luck with head injuries and concussions — "Knock on wood," he says — since being drafted in the 10th round in 2009. Barnhart owes his health, he says, to the sturdy nature of the All-Star catcher's gear he uses.
One person Barnhart didn't get a chance to shoot the breeze with about Partch's pitch was Partch, himself. After beating Charlotte 6-5, the Bats were enjoying a rare day off at home Tuesday, but Barnhart said they'd probably discuss it once they got back to the ballpark. Only, the Reds have recalled Partch. He's back in the majors, where his wizard-like pitches are someone else's concern.
Big BLS H/N: C. Trent Rosecrans
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