Atlanta Braves utility player Charlie Culberson suffered "multiple facial fractures" after a 91 mph pitch struck him in the face during a bunt attempt in Saturday's playoff-clinching win over the Washington Nationals, the team announced.
The 30-year-old had been cleared to travel back to Atlanta, where team doctors will assess the next steps in his treatment, the Braves said Sunday. There was no mention on when he could return to the field.
The scary moment came during the seventh inning of the 10-1 victory at Nationals Park. With the game tied 1-1, Culberson pinch hit for starting pitcher Mike Foltynewicz with two on and no out when Washington reliever Fernando Rodney’s first-pitch fastball struck him on the right cheekbone.
Culberson fell backward immediately on impact. He stayed down holding his face until trainers helped him to his feet. He gave a thumbs-up as he was carted off the field with a towel pressed to his face and taken to a hospital.
"It was very tough to see that. He's a phenomenal human being. One of the best teammates you could have," Foltynewicz said. "I look up to him as a father. He actually has three kids. It's his kid's birthday today, one of them. I want to be just like him as a father."
The incident included some controversy after crew chief Tim Timmons called the pitch a strike since Culberson squared up to bunt. Atlanta manager Brian Snitker launched into a profanity-fueled tirade against Timmons, shouting “Shame on you!” Snitker was promptly ejected, his fourth this season.
"You can't bunt when the ball is coming at your face," a more restrained Snitker told reporters after the game. "That just sounds like ... My God. I am not going to even get into that. I am sitting there looking at this guy’s pooling blood on the ground. And I am like, 'Come on.'"
The Braves seemed to rally behind their fallen teammate on back-to-back doubles from Ronald Acuña Jr. and Ozzie Albies that drove in runs and sent the Nationals’ bullpen spiraling into a meltdown. The Washington bullpen gave up nine runs over the final four innings.
The win clinched the Braves’ (93-57) first consecutive postseason spot since 2012-13, but the clubhouse afterward was subdued as the team remained concerned over their utility man.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.