Astros: Kent Emanuel had himself a memorable MLB debut performance

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Astros pitcher Kent Emanuel, making his MLB debut on Saturday, had the longest relief appearance in more than 30 years.

Kent Emanuel waited years for this moment, and when it finally came on Saturday afternoon, he made the most of it.

The 28-year-old left-hander was thrust into his long-awaited major-league debut on Saturday, but it wasn’t as expected. Jake Odorizzi, the Houston Astros‘ scheduled starter to face the Los Angeles Angels at Minute Maid Park, left the game with right forearm tightness after throwing just five pitches and getting one out. So in came Emanuel for the chance he had been waiting for since he was drafted by the Astros in 2013.

Going up against an Angels lineup led by Shohei Ohtani and future Hall-of-Famer Albert Pujols, Emanuel showed he wasn’t experiencing any first-game jitters. While he gave up home runs to both Pujols and Ohtani, he otherwise held the Angels off the scoreboard. He gave up only two hits over his final six innings, at one point retiring 10 straight batters. Manager Dusty Baker decided Emanuel was throwing so well that he stuck with him the rest of the way as the Astros built a commanding 16-2 lead.

Emanuel got the final 26 outs of the game, giving up five hits while striking out five without walking a batter. He’s the first pitcher to throw at least 8.2 innings in relief since the Yankees’ Neil Allen replaced starter Al Leiter after he was struck by a ball hit back to the mound on May 31, 1988. The last Astros pitcher to last that long out of the bullpen was Mike Cosgrove on June 18, 1974.

Kent Emanuel makes Astros history

Emanuel is the first pitcher, starter or reliever, in 14 years to pitch at least 8.2 innings in his debut. Only one other pitcher in the last 108 years, John Montefusco of the Giants on Sept. 3, 1974, pitched that many innings in relief in his first big-league game. Emanuel had never even pitched more than eight innings in the minors.

It was a historic moment, one that Emanuel was beginning to think might never happen. He played 136 career games in the minor leagues. In his last full season, in 2019, he had a 3.90 ERA in 28 appearances for Triple-A Round Rock. Reaching the highest level of minor league baseball, his chance in the Majors seemed imminent. But then his path was dealt a devastating blow in 2020 when he tested positive for oral turinabol, a banned performance-enhancing substance. MLB suspended him for 80 games.

His suspension finally ran out on Thursday, and the Astros called him up from their alternate site on Friday. Just 24 hours later, in front of 21,000 home fans inside Minute Maid Park, his long journey came to an end.

“A lot of time and energy and effort went into this,” he told the Houston Chronicle on Friday. “Arm injuries, a suspension, a pandemic. I mean, it’s been a pretty crazy journey for me, I think. Not many guys hang around for this long and then get called up. So yeah, it’s pretty cool.”

Emanuel isn’t a prototypical relief pitcher. He doesn’t throw hard. His pitch repertoire doesn’t include a traditional four-seam fastball. Instead, he relies on a combination of sinkers, changeups, and sliders. Less than half of the 90 pitches he threw on Saturday were measured at more than 90 mph. The fastest pitch he threw was 93.

But it was effective. Emanuel waited seven years to get here. Now his place in baseball history is carved out forever.

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