Hi all. Here’s how I see baseball on this Monday, April 30.
99 times in 100, when a team sends a new guy to the mound for the first time in the majors, they have a guy warming in the bull pen in the first inning-and often he needs to come to the hill rapidly. Sandy Koufax wasn’t Sandy_ Koufax in his debut. Not even close. He walked 8 men in his first start, and It took him more than 6 years in the bigs to become anything better than a mediocrity. He was 8–13 in 1960 and nearly quit the game. His future opponents would come to wish he had.
Yesterday, the Pirates brought out a righty from AAA nobody had heard of unless they rooted for the Pirates’ minor league teams. Whatever he becomes going forward, Pirates’ fans will remember Nick Kingham as the guy who retired the first 20 major leaguers he saw. Considering the piece I wrote in this forum yesterday, you could easily ask if Kingham was facing one of the game’s dreadful teams-the Reds, Marlins, Orioles, Royals. He wasn’t. The Cardinals are just barely behind the Pirates in the NL Central. He watched highlights of many of his foes during his 8-year struggle to the majors. Matt Carpenter, Tommy Pham, Marcel Ozuna came to the plate hoping to batter him back to the minors; he sent them away empty. Yadier Molina, 8 times an All-star and maybe the best catcher in the game today got a hit–but he got it in the 8th inning off another pitcher. With two gone in the visiting 7th, it was shortstop Paul DeJong, who may not be a household name in his own house who broke up the newcomer’s bid to do the impossible, the unthinkable. He struck out 9, 6 on a slider he had only begun working on a month ago. Through five and a half innings Luke Weaver matched Kingham out for out. The Pirates broke through for 4 runs in their half of the sixth, adding a certain amount of length to the leash on Kingham. 18 out of 18 would have been eye-popping, and it almost ended there. Leadoff hitter and first baseman Matt Carpenter took a shot at proving how tough major league hitters can be. He hit a hard liner deep to right which the Pirates’ Gregory Polanco was able to run down. Kingham then struck out Pham before DeJong broke the spell. Without the 4-run rally, Kingham would certainly have left the hill after the first hit. The Pirates had a game to win, after all. As it was, with the score 4-0 Kingham got the chance to retire Ozuna which he did. He left the field to a standing ovation.
No man since the beginning of expansion baseball in 1961 has retired the first 20 opponents to face him. As baseball has gone from a svelte 16 teams to a “Biggest Loser” 30, the game has brought in a ton of pitchers. Some have been outstanding, some good, a great many mediocre and some downright awful. But none of these, not Tom Seaver or Bryan Mitchell or anybody in between has come this close to baseball immortality in their debut.