Rhymes injury puts Rays’ win on backburner

ST. PETERSBURG – A frightening scene unfolded in the bottom of the eighth inning Wednesday night when Tampa Bay Rays second baseman Will Rhymes collapsed beside first base moments after being struck full force by a fastball thrown by Boston reliever Franklin Morales.

But there’s good news for Rhymes and the injury-riddled Rays.

Despite fears of a broken bone or perhaps an undetermined problem that caused the 29-year-old infielder to briefly lose consciousness, X-rays came up negative. He does have a nasty swollen contusion on his right forearm, but may only have to sit out a handful of games. All things considered, that’s an extremely positive outcome given how bad things looked at the time.

The Rays even held on to beat Boston 2-1 for their fourth straight win, remaining in a first-place tie with Baltimore at 24-14 in the AL East. They scored their first run in the second inning on one of three Red Sox balks and the eventual game-winner in the sixth when Matt Joyce raced home on a shallow, but high sacrifice fly by Luke Scott that caused right fielder Cody Ross to get off balance momentarily.

Jeremy Hellickson improved to 4-0 with a 2.77 ERA, pitching six innings and scattering five hits, while Fernando Rodney picked up his 12th save in as many attempts.

But everything took a backseat for several scary minutes in the eighth – first the pitch that struck Rhymes, then his scary collapse soon after.

It turns out Rhymes suffered what the club called “an adrenaline rush” after arriving at first base. Seconds later, he took a few steps toward the dugout and passed out, caught as he collapsed by first base coach George Hendrick. But as Rhymes lay motionless, a hush fell over the crowd of 20,843 inside the Trop as manager Joe Maddon raced to the field, followed seconds later by the trainers and a paramedic climbing over the wall from the stands.

Rhymes didn’t respond at first when assistant trainer Paul Harker tried to converse with him.

“Hark had him cradled behind the neck and he just said, ‘Talk to me, talk to me.’ And I think for a brief moment he wasn’t, and then all of a sudden he snapped to. He started a little conversation to make sure he was there, and he was.”

“I told them I was Batman just to mess with them,” Rhymes quipped later, after getting his X-rays in the training room.

As it turns out, he walked from the training room through the clubhouse toward his locker just as a replay was showing him collapsing. He stopped and watched and acknowledged to a crowd of reporters that it was a bit surreal seeing it all unfold.

“Yeah, ’cause I don’t remember it,” he said. “So I was curious as to what happened.

For a team that already has nine players on the disabled list adding Brandon Guyer prior to the game losing another key performer was the last thing the Rays needed. But it appears Rhymes dodged a bullet and could be back in the lineup soon.

“They say it’s one of the strongest bones in the body, so thank God,” he said. “What are you going to do? I guess I caught a break there.”

So did the Rays, considering what a valuable role he’s played since being added to the roster in place of injured third baseman and offensive leader Evan Longoria last month. Rhymes has played well both at second and third, and is batting .283 (13 for 46), including a single Wednesday night prior to getting hit.

Rhymes had come to the plate with Tampa Bay leading 2-1. Newly acquired outfielder Rich Thompson had come on to pinch-run for Luke Scott, who had singled, then advanced to second on a wild pitch and taken third base on the third Boston balk of the night. With one out, Rhymes stepped to the plate and was promptly struck on his arm, with no chance to get out of the way of the errant pitch.

The loud thud of the ball striking his forearm was unsettling enough, almost like a ball hitting the bat. But after being examined by Maddon, trainer Ron Porterfield and Harker, Rhymes seemed well enough to stay in the game and go to first base.

“We were just at home plate with him and he was really well and he was almost laughing a little bit. ‘I’m fine,'” Maddon recalled. “I said, ‘That’s your throwing arm.’ He said, ‘I know, but I can at least run for you.’ I said OK. And he went out there to run, and we’re (pinch-hitting Jeff) Keppinger and … then all of a sudden I saw him go down.”

Rhymes says nothing like that has ever happened to him before.

“That’s a first for me and hopefully a last,” he said.

As for initial concerns that he might have been in shock, he replied, “You’ll have to talk to the trainers. I don’t know anything about it. But they said it’s common – I guess some blood rushes.”

“I’ve actually experienced something like that,” Maddon added. “It makes you want to throw up. It just absolutely hit him right in the arm. If you get hit that well in the arm, it can definitely go into your stomach and your head.”

Rhymes was braced for bad news from the X-rays, given the force of the impact.

“It literally hit me as hard on the bone, pretty much, as you can be hit,” he said. “I was like, ‘That’s broken.’ I’m shocked (the X-rays were negative).”

His shock instantly gave way to relief – for him and the Rays.

“Right now, I feel extremely lucky that it’s not fractured and that hopefully I’ll be able to get this taken care of and get back out there,” he added. “It does seem like we have a little curse going on, and I hope it stops. I hope we’re done for the year – for the year. I hope we can get healthy and stay healthy and have a chance to just go out there and play.”