Heller: MLB debut with Yankees 'surreal'

Heller: MLB debut with Yankees 'surreal'

NEW YORK -- It's a good thing that Ben Heller has a sense of humor.

Two outs into his Major League debut Friday night, the 25-year-old rookie got Orioles outfielder Hyun Soo Kim to ground a ball toward first base. Fellow rookie Tyler Austin fielded the ball, turned and tossed it to first, where Heller had rushed to cover. But Heller couldn't squeeze the ball and Kim was safe. Less than an inning into his MLB career, Heller had already recorded an error.

The error set up Heller for the opportunity to face Manny Machado, a vaunted power hitter who had already hit two home runs in the game. But Heller jammed Machado, forcing a fielder's choice at second base to end the inning. And it was at that point that Heller started to smile.

"Once I got out of the inning, I just kind of laughed," Heller said. "I make that play 99 times out of 100. But I joked around with [pitching coach Larry Rothschild] and [manager Joe Girardi] and said I'll be in early from some [pitchers' fielding practice] work."

Joking aside, Heller said his first game as a big leaguer was nerve-wracking but dream-fulfilling. After the game, he recounted his feelings as he jogged out to the mound for the first time. Or, at least, the feelings he can remember.

"My legs were trembling a little bit as I was walking down the stairs of the bullpen, but I think I got tunnel vision once I got onto the field and I was just so locked into the catcher," Heller said. "Everything else just kind of blacked out and it was just surreal."

Adding to the nerves of making a Major League debut, Heller had to wait a little longer than most to get into a game for the first time. The Yankees first called Heller up to the Majors on Aug. 11, but sent him back down to Triple-A two days later. Heller was recalled again on Tuesday, but still had to wait three more days after that to pitch.

Thanks to his prospective debut date constantly being pushed back, Heller's entourage of family and friends who followed him from city to city ended up traveling from Boston to the Bronx to Seattle back to the Bronx, hoping to catch his first action. This group included his parents, his wife, his brother and friends from college.

As for those who weren't at Friday's game, Heller said he woke up Saturday morning to find about 85 text messages, and his Twitter had blown up with congratulatory messages. He said one of the prevailing sentiments among friends was a joke that he had purposely made the error so he could get a crack at Machado.

And while Heller laughed, saying he would never do that, he did add that he thinks he broke Machado's bat, so that was just another cool event to add to a memorable night.

Worth noting

• The Yankees swapped the start days of their next two starting pitchers. CC Sabathia, who was scheduled to pitch Monday in Kansas City, will now pitch Sunday against the Orioles.

Michael Pineda, who was supposed to pitch Sunday, will take over Sabathia's start date Monday. Girardi said the decision was made because he feels Baltimore has more trouble against left-handers and Kansas City against right-handers, setting up two favorable platoon splits. Thanks to an off-day Thursday, Sabathia will still be pitching on regular rest despite moving up a spot.

Nick Suss is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.