Afterwards, he looked like a skier who’d just tumbled halfway down a double-diamond ski run on a powder day, got up, smiled and buckled his boots back into the bindings, hungry for more.
“It was awesome, definitely everything I could have imagined and more,” right-hander Kevin Gausman said afterwards, unable to wipe the grin from his face in spite of the loss.
The Baltimore right-hander from the Denver area became the first of two pitchers to make their major league debuts on consecutive nights for opposing teams at the Rogers Centre. Gausman allowed four runs in five innings to the Blue Jays (20-27) who would pound the Orioles bullpen thereafter, for a 12-6 victory on Thursday.
The Jays have won three of the first four games against AL East rivals during a critical nine-game homestand and on Friday night, for Game 2 against Baltimore (25-22), they’ll hand the ball to Sean Nolin, Gausman’s elder at age 23.
A 6-foot-5, 235-pound left-hander and sixth-round draft choice in 2010, he is likewise being brought straight from Double-A to pitch for the Blue Jays. Out of San Jacinto College in Jays manager John Gibbons’ home state of Texas, he had a 2-0 record and 1.17 ERA in three appearances for New Hampshire, and went 9-0 with a 2.19 ERA in 17 games for Single-A Dunedin last season.
"The kid always wins, where ever he goes," said Gibbons. "He has a good feel, a good idea of what he's doing out there."
Gausman, a lanky right-hander with an intimidating stride to the plate and superstitions galore, became this season’s youngest AL pitcher at age 22 years and 137 days.
“I have been waiting my entire life for this,” said Gausman, the first player from the first round of the 2012 draft to make the big leagues.
Gausman’s past superstition of eating powder donuts between innings at Louisiana State made the rounds over the past couple of days, the pitcher himself tweeting a picture of 1,500 donuts stacked in his locker courtesy of teammate Adam Jones. At Double-A Bowie, a 95-mph fastball and off-setting changeup rather than sugar energy – he’s dispensed with the donut thing for now, on advice of a nutritionist -- enabled a 9.8-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
“I like the way he presented himself,” O’s manager Buck Showalter said, appraising Gausman’s work. “He’ll learn from this.”
Lesson No. 1: A major league batting order can do significant damage the second time through the lineup, if you’re dealing the same material as during the first time through.
The Blue Jays had trouble catching up to the fastball in their initial at-bats, as the Orioles took a 3-0 lead on Jays starter Brandon Morrow (2-3). In the fourth inning, Adam Lind and J.P. Arencibia hit back-to-back doubles and Emilio Bonifacio later sent a sacrifice fly to the warning track, cutting the margin to 3-2. An inning later, Lind singled and Arencibia hit Gausman’s first pitch, this time for a two-run homer and 4-3 lead.
“Definitely a learning experience,” Gausman said. “It felt good early on and when I got to those innings, I just tried to buckle down with guys on base. But they’re a good hitting team, so hat’s off to them.”
Edwin Encarnacion put the game away with his fifth career grand slam off reliever Pedro Strop in the sixth inning for an 8-3 lead, sticking Gausman with the loss.
Lesson No. 2: It’s going to get louder. He made his debut in the relatively restrained Rogers Centre; the Jays sold 21,466 tickets for the game.
“It was funny, I was talking to [pitcher Chris] Tillman and all those guys and saying, ‘it’s sure loud out there.’ And they said, no, this is quiet,” he said.
For the debut, there are always special circumstances. Gausman had the donuts in the clubhouse, his father and other family members in the stands.
“Your mom, dad, brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts, uncles all there,” Jays pitcher Mark Buehrle said. “You’re nervous. Take a couple of deep breaths, and try to get through that first inning.”
Now, Nolin’s turn.
“You’ve got to be able to pitch, can’t get away with just throwing like you can down there,” Gibbons had said before the game, discussing the promotion from minor leagues to the majors. “It’s the same game, played the same way; it’s how you react mentally. … Everybody in their debut wants to have a good night and if you do, it can send you a long way.”
And if you don’t, there’s always the next one.
In September of 1998, Roy Halladay of the Jays got a no-decision in his debut when Fred McGriff hit a game tying homer for Tampa Bay. Next time out, he threw a no-hitter for 8-2/3 innings against Detroit, for a 2-1 win.
In 1995 as the Yankees manager, Showalter gave Mariano Rivera a quick hook with the Angels ahead 5-0, after Jim Edmonds hit a three-run homer. Eighteen years later, Rivera’s bound for the Hall of Fame as the sport’s greatest closer. Same spring, Andy Pettitte got roughed up in less than an inning as a reliever; today he ranks as one of the sport’s greatest left-handed starters.
“Most old dogs that bite, bite when they’re puppies too,” Showalter said.