Rookie infielder was added to roster earlier Sunday
By Owen Perkins
Special to MLB.com |
DENVER -- Paul DeJong may have been unavoidably late to the ballpark Sunday, but he was right on time with his first swing in the Major Leagues.
DeJong made his big league debut in Sunday's series finale, an 8-4 loss to the Rockies, entering as a pinch hitter in the top of the ninth inning, facing closer Greg Holland, who has saved 19 games in 19 chances and boasted a 0.96 ERA coming into the game.
"I was just looking for a fastball early in the count," DeJong said. "First pitch -- ball. I kind of tightened up and wanted a pitch right in my zone and looked for it and got it and took a swing at it."
The swing was good enough to send the ball 388 feet into the left field stands for a home run on his first swing.
"I was pretty amped," DeJong said. "I couldn't really feel my legs. I just kept watching it and it kept going. It was pretty amazing."
DeJong is the ninth Cardinal to homer in his first Major League at bat, and the first since Mark Worrell did it in the second game of a June 5, 2008 doubleheader against the Nationals.
"I guess it's easy, I don't know," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "I'm happy for him. He got here about halfway through the game. Just an exciting player, and we see why."
DeJong got the call late Saturday night, and through travel complications he ended up landing at Denver International Airport in the second inning of the game. He replaced Kolten Wong on the roster, as Wong headed to the disabled list Sunday morning.
"Last night after I got back to the apartment, [Memphis manager] Stubby [Clapp] called me back to the clubhouse and told me I was going up," DeJong said. "I called my mom and dad and a few friends and old coaches who helped me get there.
"It's just been a crazy 24 hours. I couldn't get much sleep last night."
After a quick ride from the airport, he got to the ballpark about halfway through the game, grabbed a uniform, and came out of the clubhouse and into the dugout in the midst of his first game at a sold-out Coors Field.
"Come out and see the high stands and the noises, just the show, it was amazing," DeJong marveled.
DeJong hit .294 with a team-high 11 homers and 31 RBIs in 46 games with Memphis this spring, but he has little experience as a pinch-hitter, so he made frequent trips from the dugout to the indoor batting cage.
"I've been pretty much an everyday player in Memphis, but today was a special case," DeJong. "I had a little more in the tank, a little more edge and excitement, and came through."
He was pinch-hitting for reliever Matt Bowman to lead off the ninth, facing the game's hottest closer because the Rockies were determined not to let the Cards back in the game with the series on the line. With his parents in the stands, DeJong unwound on a 92 mph fastball and circled the bases into the history books.
"It was just a dream come true," DeJong said. "I've been playing baseball since I was four years old, and to do that in my first at bat was something I'll remember forever."
Owen Perkins is a contributor to MLB.com who is based in Denver. He covered the Cardinals on Sunday. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.