The World Series begins tonight, which means it's as good an occasion as any to look back at one of the more memorable moments from Cardinals manager Mike Matheny's playing career: The night a 90-something-mph fastball hit him square in the face and he barely reacted.
It was May 26, 1998, and Matheny was in his third full season as a catcher for the Brewers, who had just switched from the American League to the National League. In the bottom of the ninth that night at County Stadium, the Pirates led 2-1 when Matheny came to the plate to face Rich Loiselle. One out; runners at first and second.
With the count 0-1, Loiselle came up and in with a fastball. These were the days before pitch speeds were shown on TV screens, but according to MLB.com, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel said Loiselle's offering was clocked at 90 mph, while the Associated Press had it at 95 mph. Either way, it drilled Matheny—hard. At first glance, it looks as if the pitch might have caught Matheny's helmet. But a replay shows that it smacked him right in the face.
After a brief pause to consider what the hell had just happened, home plate umpire Jerry Crawford and Pirates catcher Jason Kendall can be seen motioning wildly for the Brewers' trainers. But Matheny? He did nothing but lean on his bat and put his hand on his hip. A moment later, he can be seen spitting out a mouthful of blood. He finally walked off the field under his own power. Here's MLB.com:
After the game, Matheny approached Jeff Cirillo, a fellow '91 Draft pick and his oldest friend in the organization.
"He comes over to me and asks if he went down," Cirillo said. "With an open mouth, I said, 'No.'
"And he said, 'Good.'"
Bobby Hughes would pinch-run for Matheny, and the Brewers would go on to win the game when their next hitter, Jose Valentin, singled home a pair of runs. Matheny was taken to the hospital, and while he lost a few teeth, he would need only four stitches. He also played catcher for all 10 innings the next night, even throwing out a would-be base-stealer in the eighth inning.
Nine years later, concussion symptoms forced Matheny to retire.
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