CINCINNATI -- Playing just about perfectly in all facets to snap a six-game losing streak, Monday's 4-0 shutout of the Pirates should have been the kind of performance that brought the Reds relief from the doom and gloom of the past week. But not all of the dark clouds could be cleared so quickly. Not when Reds players watched center fielder Ryan Freel become involved in a frightening collision that sent him to the hospital in an ambulance from the field. Freel would be OK after undergoing tests at the hospital, but the playing status of the leadoff hitter and team catalyst for the next few days was unclear.
"I'll tell you what, it's scary," said Reds manager Jerry Narron, whose club avoided a four-game sweep to Pittsburgh and finished a rough homestand at 2-6. "Going out there, he was not moving. I was expecting him to at least be sitting up." In the third inning, on leadoff hitter Humberto Cota's drive to deep right-center field, Freel collided with right fielder Norris Hopper as the two converged to make the catch. "I knew I had a bead on it, and I know how he plays, so I figured he had a bead on it," Hopper said. "And we needed that out really bad, so I just told myself we needed that out, needed to make the play. And fortunately we made it." But not without a cost. Freel's head caught Hopper's right elbow and turned violently before the center fielder fell hard on the warning track. Hopper got up, but Freel remained down and motionless on the warning track for several minutes and facing the fence on his side. Hopper tended to him immediately and said Freel was unconscious for a few moments. "I screamed right in his ear: 'FREEL! FREEL! FREEL!' as loud as I could," Hopper said. "The first couple of times, he didn't even budge. But the fourth or fifth time, he kind of opened his eyes a little bit, but you could tell he didn't know what was going on." Narron, trainers Mark Mann and Steve Baumann, as well as team medical director Dr. Tim Kremchek also rushed out to see Freel. Eventually, several teammates also came over as the game was delayed for 13 minutes. "You're worried and concerned," said catcher David Ross, who hit a two-run homer in the game. "We're all family. It's like a family member that's down out there. You're concerned. We know what kind of player he is, and he goes hard. Stuff like that can happen. To hear he's alright is good news." Freel was transported to Good Samaritan Hospital, where CT scans performed on his head and neck came back normal. The 31-year-old, who is batting .251 in 49 games, was diagnosed with a contusion to the head and neck. He will be re-evaluated on Tuesday. It wasn't known if a stint on the disabled list would be needed. A utility player for the Reds since 2003, Freel is known for frequently giving up his body to make spectacular plays. In March, he crashed headfirst into the wall to make a catch, and that was in a meaningless Spring Training game. "He just goes out there all-out on every play," said Reds starter Kyle Lohse, who brilliantly pitched a six-hit shutout for the victory. "It's fun to watch, but you're scared for him and the guys around him sometimes. He really doesn't care much for his body." An umpire also made his way out to Freel and Hopper and asked where the ball was. Cota had already circled the bases on the play, but was called out when the ball was found in Freel's glove. "I came back in here and looked at the play and it looked like a catch," Cota said. "Then they were saying that Hopper put the ball in his glove. It's one of those things, you wish you could be in the NFL and throw one of those red flags and challenge that play." Television replays clearly showed Hopper put the ball in Freel's glove.
"I don't know, he caught it," was Hopper's version to the umpire.Cincinnati (19-33) entered the day with the worst record in the Majors and endured some of its most mind-numbing losses of the season in the past week. Freel's play was viewed as a boost. "That was kind of a turning point for us. He picked us up," Ross said. "That guy is going zero to 90, 24-7." Ross' two-run homer to left field off Pirates starter Ian Snell (4-4) made it a 2-0 game. Edwin Encarnacion hit an RBI single in the sixth off Snell and an RBI double in the eighth that iced the game for Lohse. After losing his previous six starts, Lohse (2-6) did not walk a batter and struck out two in an important personal skid-ender Monday. In his two most recent outings, he lasted a career-low 1 1/3 innings and only 4 1/3 innings while pitching with the flu vs. Washington on Wednesday. Since that game, he said he's dropped nine pounds and felt cramping while appearing to cruise vs. Pittsburgh. Besides the Freel play, there were other excellent defensive plays backing Lohse. Encarnacion, known more for his defensive miscues at third base, made spectacular diving plays for outs in the seventh and ninth innings. Shortstop Alex Gonzalez also made a diving play for the final out of the seventh. Defense also saved Lohse during his tightest jam of the game in the eighth. With runners on the corners, Chris Duffy grounded to first baseman Scott Hatteberg. Hatteberg touched first and fired to Ross at home, who blocked the plate and tagged Cota out for the inning-ending double play. "I don't know which play was the best," Lohse said. "You have Freel. You had Edwin making diving plays all over the place. The one that Hatteberg had -- I think that was one of the biggest ones that got me through to the end there." By going the distance, Lohse saved the recently well-taxed Reds bullpen from being used again. Relievers were needed for all 27 outs in Sunday's 14-10 defeat. "He pitched really well," Ross said. "We needed a big outing from him. That's the kind of things we need. Pitching and defense win ballgames. We did it today."
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.