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A ball game got away from the Grasshoppers Friday night.
Kannapolis scored three runs in the top of the ninth inning and beat Greensboro 5-3 in NewBridge Bank Park. The Hoppers had scored twice in the bottom of the eighth to take a 3-2 lead, with Colin Moran's sacrifice fly scoring one run and Cameron Flynn's single knocking in another.
But Dane Stone, who had retired the side in order in the eighth with the help of fine defensive plays by Blake Barber at second base and Flynn in left field, couldn't nail it down in the ninth. The first three batters reached safely to load the bases and a sacrifice fly tied the game. Sean Donatello relieved Stone but gave up a two-run double to Jason Coats to relinquish the lead.
"We battled to take the lead and we gave it away," said manager Jorge Hernandez. "Ronald Barnes is our closer but he pitched (Thursday) and wasn't available. We just didn't pitch good in the ninth inning."
In the scheme of things, though, the game didn't matter much. Still fresh on the minds of everyone was fallen teammate Ramon Del Orbe, who remains in the hospital in Charleston, WV, after surgery for a fractured skull.
On Tuesday, Del Orbe was into the sixth inning of a 1-1 game, pitching very well. Then the Power's Josh Bell lined a shot up the middle that struck Del Orbe on the right temple as he followed through on his delivery. Hernandez bolted out of the duguout and was one of the first to reach the collapsed pitcher.
"It was the scariest thing I've ever seen," Hernandez said. "He never lost consciousness and he remembered everything. He was calm and he didn't lose any feeling."
But he was obviously seriously injured. It took emergency crews, working carefully because it was a head injury, around 40 minutes to get Del Orbe onto a stretcher and removed from the field. They took him immediately to the hospital, located next to the stadium.
His skull was fractured in two places but at first it was thought he wouldn't need surgery. That changed when internal bleeding was discovered and Del Orbe underwent surgery Thursday. Hoppers trainer Ben Cates remained in Charleston and was joined by Bobby Ramos, the Marlins' coordinator of player development for Latin American players.
"He had a CT scan today and seems to be recovering well," Hernandez said.
Long-term, of course, there is no way to tell how this will affect Del Orbe's career.
"I hope he makes a full recovery and is able to get back to 100 percent, whether he pitches again or not," said pitching coach Blake McGinley.
Two years ago, when he was the pitching coach in Jamestown, McGinley saw Helpi Reyes take a line drive off his chest. Reyes is still pitching, but flinches when a ball is hit back at him, McGinley said.
It was a freak play that's part of baseball, which didn't make it any less terrible to see.
"Batters have a helmet for protection," McGinley said. "Pitchers are defenseless, especially against a ball coming at them 105 miles an hour off the bat."
Starting pitcher Austin Brice said watching it was "indescribable. The first thing that ran through my mind was 'I hope he's still alive.'"
Brice said he has been hit in the hip by a hard line drive and has had balls whiz by his head without making contact.
"It's part of the game and a pitcher knows the risks," he said.
Dejai Oliver, who will start Sunday's game, said you can't dwell on what happened.
"Watching a teammate and friend lock up and fall over like that is terrifying," Oliver said. "You go from being in a game to life really hitting you. But you still have a game to play and the long delay actually helped us because we had time to regroup.
"I've had some close calls but nothing too bad. But you can't let it affect what you do on the mound. You can't think about that kind of stuff. You've got to forget about it."