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Huff ready for first start since getting hit

Huff ready for first start since getting hit

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DETROIT -- David Huff has to tousle his hair a tad to reveal the raspberry looming underneath. It is a slight bruise just above his left ear, the only visible and physical evidence of the baseball that, had Huff's fate taken a more drastic turn, could have damaged his vision or his hearing, turned him into a vegetable or taken his life.

The bruise is but a small reminder of the Alex Rodriguez line drive that put Huff in the national spotlight as the guy lying limp on the mound on baseball's biggest stage, Yankee Stadium.

But for Huff, the experience Saturday in the Bronx -- an experience he hopes to put behind him when he miraculously retakes the mound Thursday at Comerica Park -- has left an impact that will last long after the bruise heals.

"I might go religious on you right now," Huff says with a smile. "But you put your faith in God to get you through it, and He did. It was amazing."

Amazing, yes. For the 25-year-old Huff and for anybody who gasped or winced or felt their stomach twist in knots upon the sight of Huff getting hit. That includes David's older brother, Tim, a former pitcher at Long Beach State who watched from the seventh row behind home plate at Yankee Stadium with his parents, Tom and Pat, and immediately feared the worst.

"I played baseball for 25 years, and I've watched Dave play and watched games on TV and live," Tim says. "I have never seen a ball hit harder than that ball hit by Alex. He got every single ounce of that elevated changeup."

Tim didn't know that by laying there motionless, Huff was merely following protocol. Pitchers are taught to be still when they are plunked in such a manner, so as not to cause further damage.

"That," Tim says, "would have been great information to have from David beforehand."

After the impact with Huff's head, the ball sailed all the way into right field, which was actually a good thing. The trajectory of the ball proved that Huff's head had not deadened the ball's path by absorbing a more crushing impact.

That the ball struck the head precisely where it did was simultaneously unlucky and lucky for Huff. Given the circumstances and the fact that his fate could have been much, much worse, Huff certainly sees this from the lucky perspective.

He keeps thinking about that luck, what it means or where it's derived from. The best he can do to explain it is to recall a transaction at a Manhattan pizza shop the night before. Huff went to pay for his 10 bucks' worth of pie, handing the cashier a $100 bill. He was handed back his change -- five $20 bills and a $10 bill.

"I could have totally taken the extra 20," Huff says.

Does karmic law, if it exists at all, extend to New York City pizza parlors?

"You never know," Huff says, laughing. "Maybe that was it. Maybe that's what helped me."

The metaphysics of what transpired are going to have to be analyzed by Huff some other day, perhaps when he one day tells his children the story of his first start in Yankee Stadium and the abrupt way in which it ended.

Tim will tell the story, too, again and again. He'll explain that he made the trip from Huntington Beach, Calif., with his parents to watch his kid brother try to silence one of the most potent lineups in baseball. He'll talk about playing catch with David on the outfield grass last Friday, walking through Monument Park and taking some dirt from the infield as a souvenir.

Then he'll talk about watching David struggle through the first, gather his composure against the lower-third of the Yanks' order in the second and then ...

"All we saw was that the ball hit him above the shoulders," Tim says. "We knew nothing else. I catapulted over four people sitting to my left, ran to the fence. I thought, 'Do I embarrass Dave and run on the field?' With all the people getting tasered, I didn't think that was the greatest option."

Instead, Tim explained to a security guard that he was Huff's brother, and these frantic-looking people with him were Huff's parents. Next thing the Huffs knew, they were being ushered through a tunnel, through a kitchen and to the area where Huff was loaded into an ambulance and taken to New York-Presbyterian Hospital.

This all sounds -- and looked -- much worse than it was. Because the reality is that from the moment the Indians' medical training staff arrived at the scene where Huff had slumped to the ground, Huff had given them every indication that he was fine. He accurately recited Tim's cell phone number to ensure his brother was informed that he's fine, and he recalled that he had thrown A-Rod a changeup that hung over the plate. He had zero signs of a concussion.

In fact, by the time Huff arrived at the hospital, he was more worried about the game than his head.

"He was just angry that he was out of the game," Tim says. "He felt cheated. He said, 'I didn't get my money's worth. It was my first time in Yankee Stadium.' I told him, 'We didn't get our money's worth out of those seats, either, because I'm sure they weren't cheap.'"

There are lessons Huff will take from the whole ordeal. For one, he learned about a side of A-Rod that the rest of us don't see. A caring, considerate side that worried about Huff and his family.

Huff was on the bus back to the team hotel, after doctors performed a CT scan that revealed no brain damage, when Rodriguez called him to apologize for what had happened. Huff didn't recognize the number with the 212 area code, and he didn't know if the "Alex" on the other end of the line was one of his friends named Alex from back home.

"It took me a minute to realize who it was," Huff says. "I know he was shaken up, so I just tried to get him to laugh a little bit. I told him, 'Is that all you got? You only put me in the hospital for a couple hours.'"

Tim viewed the incident from his perspective as Huff's personal pitching coach, the guy who is always critiquing his little brother's outings and looking for ways he can improve.

"I told him, 'You know why you got hit in the head?'" Tim recalls. "'The moral of the story is A, how many times have we talked about going in on guys? And B, it was an elevated changeup. How many times do we talk about getting that changeup down? If you get that down, it's a double play to [second baseman Mark] Grudzielanek.'"

That's a lesson Huff hopes to remember when he returns to the mound Thursday. He insists he's not fearful of another comebacker. He knows that he's pitched more than 1,000 games in his lifetime and been hit exactly twice -- once in the arm, and then this Bronx beaning. He's not expecting any signs of shellshock, nor is an Indians team that subjected him to neuropsychological testing.

All that lingers for Huff is that slight bruise and the immeasurable appreciation he feels to still be here, not only living but still doing what he loves.

"It definitely puts life in perspective," he says. "I dodged a huge, huge bullet."

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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