What did it sound like?
“Thud,” said Rhys Hoskins.
It was a sickening sound -- 96-mph fastball on bone, and Bryce Harper was down, clutching his right ankle, writhing in the dirt.
“Yeah. Thud,” Hoskins repeated, standing in the clubhouse, his lips thin, his expression grim. “I haven’t seen him yet. Hopefully, we get some good news.”
When Harper’s on the ground, what’s going through your mind?
" ‘Get up,’ " Hoskins said, unsmiling still. And then he got real: "But also -- we’re men here.
"I had his back if he was going out there.”
If there’s any question about the closeness of this rebuilt Phillies team -- Harper, J.T. Realmuto, Jean Segura, and Andrew McCutchen are all newcomers -- let this declaration serve as proof that they’re already tight.
And if there’s any question about who‘s leading this pack, let the unsolicited declaration of blind loyalty from the team’s hulking clean-up hitter answer that question, too.
Hoskins was in the on-deck circle when, finally, Harper rose and limped off. When Harper got to his feet, he appeared to say something to Jays catcher Luke Maile, who, wisely, was standing between Harper and the mound. Maile appeared to respond, and Harper departed without incident.
A team spokesperson said initial X-rays were negative, but Harper almost immediately left the facility for further imaging and was unavailable for comment. Harper was scheduled to play Saturday and Sunday but his availability is now uncertain, though Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said there was “no cause for immediate concern.”
Hoskins, in the on-deck circle when it happened, was more than just concerned. He was fuming.
Did Hoskins think Harper was angry, too?
“I think so," Hoskins said. "I would be.”
That’s understandable, regardless of context. Hoskins, who lost the Home Run Derby to Harper last summer, recruited Harper to choose Philadelphia during free agency. The pair have become good friends, and good friends in baseball will throw hands first and take the consequences later.
The pitcher was triple-A righthander Trent Thornton, traded in November from Houston. It was the sixth inning at Spectrum Field. There were runners on first and third, two out, and Harper had just swung through a 1-0 curveball.
Thornton, desperate to make the Blue Jays’ bullpen, had no reason to throw at Harper, a superstar playing in his fourth spring training game after signing for 13 years and $330 million, the richest contract in baseball history.
“I was trying to go in with my fastball,” Thornton explained. “Unfortunately, I yanked it. I hope he’s OK."
At that moment the television in the Blue Jays clubhouse replayed the incident, volume on full blast. Thornton looked at the screen, then looked away and shook his head.
“Crap. You know, I didn’t mean to do that,” Thornton said. “It’s spring training. Everybody’s shaking all the rust off, and stuff. Look at my seasons. I typically don’t hit many guys.”
Thornton, 25, has hit just 13 batters in his four professional seasons, in which he has pitched 462 innings. He isn’t a headhunter, and he was contrite from the start.
That didn’t keep a handful of the 10,289 sellout crowd at Spectrum Field from screaming insults at him when the left the field.
And that didn’t keep a flock of Phillies fans from explicitly violating Twitter’s policies, including a few death wishes.
And it certainly wouldn’t have kept Hoskins from following Harper if Harper had charged the mound. No matter what the situation, and no matter what the intent, a player who just got nailed on the ankle might act irrationally.
“I’ve been in that situation,” Hoskins said. "Obviously, you’re not very happy that you just got hit in a spot that’s usually very sensitive."
The pain might have been amplified by outrage, Hoskins said. Harper signed late, so this was just Harper’s fourth game. He was 0-for-5 with three strikeouts and three walks entering the at-bat, and, with just 10 games remaining, Harper is eager to get every possible plate appearance.
“He’s finally starting to get the rhythm. He needs the at-bats. We’re getting close,” Hoskins said. “So, I can understand the frustration.
"And I was right behind him if he was going out.”