Greg Cote

Greg Cote: Future of Miami Marlins, Giancarlo Stanton could have changed in an instant

We were toggling between the Marlins and the NFL game but back on baseball when it happened Thursday night because, in our house, Giancarlo Stanton at-bats are must-watch TV. My son and I had just spoken about one swing maybe getting Miami right back in the game. Here came the next pitch …

“Oh my God,” I heard myself say.

Stanton lay prone near home plate, as if he had been shot. The fastball had smashed the left side of his face. We found out later that blood was gushing from his mouth. For several minutes the Marlins’ star slugger and MVP candidate hardly moved as he was attended to, and as an ambulance cart arrived.

My mind flashed back to a long time ago. I was 12. I adopted the Red Sox as my favorite team. It was Aug.18, 1967.

The fastball came in and crushed the left side of Tony Conigliaro’s face, fracturing his cheekbone, dislocating his jaw and inflicting severe damage to his left retina. He was a home run-hitting young right fielder, just like Stanton. “Tony C” was only 22 then but had already hit 104 career home runs.

He was never the same. He made a comeback a year and a half later, but he was never the same. Vision problems ended his career too soon. After a heart attack and stroke left him in a coma, he would die at age 45 after years in a vegetative state.

You cannot control what flashes through your mind sometimes, and that flashed through mine as I watched Stanton being attended as a hushed stadium in Milwaukee held its breath.

ALL IN AN INSTANT

Anything can happen when a fastball hits your face. Everything can change in an instant.

Watch Conigliaro and Stanton getting hit and it looks just the same, 47 years apart.

That’s what I thought — that’s what I feared — watching Stanton on the ground.

The next morning, Friday, thankfully, it appeared Stanton was luckier than Tony C, as crazy as it sounds to apply the word “luck” to a season-ending injury so awful.

The Marlins announced Stanton had sustained “facial lacerations requiring stitches, multiple facial fractures and dental damage” — but the club said it believed no surgery would be required. That’s very good news. So is this: The fastball did not strike Stanton’s face an inch or two higher. Then it might have smashed his orbital bone and affected his vision. Then he might have been Tony C.

One inch. Maybe two. That is the measure of providence that has the Marlins expecting Stanton’s full recovery by spring training instead of gravely wondering if he will ever be the same.

What a crazy Marlins season bookended by terrible injuries to the team’s two best players.

Pitcher Jose Fernandez is lost early in the year to season-ending Tommy John elbow surgery, now Stanton is erased from the season’s final 17 games after being hit in the face.

This all but ends the Marlins’ slim hopes of winning a wild-card playoff spot — the improbable contention alone due squarely to the season Stanton was having.

The late injury could very well cost Stanton the NL MVP award, but it should not. That would literally be adding insult to injury, if MVP voters penalized Stanton on their ballots because he took a fastball to the face. He had not missed a single game all season. Not one.

MVP CREDENTIALS

He should be judged in voting by what he is right now: the major-league leader in RBI with 105, the NL leader in homers with 37 and the man who against odds kept the low-payroll Marlins competitive all season even after they lost their ace.

Stanton shouldn’t need anybody’s pity vote to still win MVP honors when his only real competition is a pitcher (Clayton Kershaw) who will end up playing fewer than 30 games, and who has his own award, the Cy Young. What Stanton needs is just logic and fairness, the idea a player having his kind of career year should not lose votes because fate happened to punch him so late in a season.

For the Marlins and their fans, though, this injury’s negative impact on his MVP hopes or on the playoff chase should be secondary. They are not what matter most today.

All that matters is that it seems like Giancarlo Stanton is going to be OK.

All that matters is that he isn’t Tony C.

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