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Sosa has close call at PNC Park



Published: Mon, April 21, 2003 @ 12:00 a.m.



He was hit so hard in the head that it cracked his batting helmet.

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Normally, Salomon Torres' cell phone would be ringing constantly with greetings from his Dominican Republic hometown after such a performance.

This time, he probably turned his phone off. He may have pitched one of the best games of his career, but he also gave a much bigger hometown star -- Sammy Sosa -- the scare of his life.

Sosa escaped the worst beaning of his career with only a few cuts -- and a few sighs of relief -- after Torres' fastball struck him so hard it broke his batting helmet during the Pirates' 8-2 victory Sunday over the Chicago Cubs.

Hit homer first at bat

After tying Eddie Murray for 17th place with his 504th home run, Sosa had no chance to react his next time up when Torres' up-and-in pitch slammed into his left temple, leaving a large hole in his mangled batting helmet.

"That was one of the worst helmet cracks I've ever seen or heard," Cubs manager Dusty Baker said.

"I'm surprised he was conscious. He's really lucky he wasn't hurt seriously."

Sosa clutched at his head, looking angry and fearful, but didn't drop to the ground. Clearly shaken, he stood nervously as Cubs trainer Dave Tumbas raced out to examine him.

"He was really upset, scared and a little shocked," Tumbas said.

Sosa walked off the field unaided, then was examined by doctors in the ballpark and later at Allegheny General Hospital, where neurological tests were negative.

Sosa was back in the clubhouse a few minutes after the game ended, relieved he had only a couple of small cuts caused when the helmet cracked.

Standing alone at his locker, he said he's never been more scared on a baseball field.

Saved by helmet

"The helmet saved me," he said. "Yeah, I've never gotten hit like that before."

About 100 yards away in the Pirates' clubhouse, Torres was relating how he has looked up to Sosa since both were amateur stars in their shared hometown of San Pedro de Macoris, Dominican Republic.

"I was walking to the bullpen before the game, and we saw each other and said hello and good luck and all that stuff," Torres said.

"We're on friendly terms. He's like an idol to me."

Torres (2-0) wasn't supposed to pitch, but Pirates starter Josh Fogg left with an abdominal strain following the Cubs' two-run first.

Torres, who was out of organized baseball for five years before joining the Pirates late last season, limited the Cubs to one hit in five shutout relief innings.

His own outing was cut short when he was hit in the knee by a Juan Cruz pitch, apparently in retaliation for hitting Sosa.

"There's no way in the world we're trying to hit Sammy in that situation," said Pirates manager Lloyd McClendon, whose team led 7-2 when Sosa was hit in the fourth.

"I don't tell pitchers to hit guys from other teams. If I ever did, I certainly wouldn't hit a guy like Sammy Sosa, one of the greats of the game."

Sosa's close call came during an otherwise forgettable day for the Cubs that ended their five-game winning streak and the Pirates' three-game losing streak.

The Pirates, held to three runs or fewer in all but one of their previous 13 games, benefitted from a series of bloop hits and well-placed ground balls that eluded Cubs infielders.

Pokey Reese and Kenny Lofton both had two-run singles on grounders second baseman Mark Grudzielanek couldn't get to, and third baseman Mark Bellhorn misplayed a Torres bunt for a two-base error.

Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.




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