Minutes after entering the San Diego Padres locker room for the first time, rookie catcher Luke Carlin learned he would have a chance to make baseball history: He would be catching Greg Maddux, who was one win away from becoming the ninth pitcher with 350 career victories.
In his fifth attempt at reaching the milestone, Maddux succeeded, pitching six strong innings to defeat the Rockies, 3-2, at Petco Park on Saturday. The morning after, the 27-year-old career minor-league catcher reflected on what would be a night that he and many others will never forget.
Holden Kushner: Luke, you make you major-league debut and Greg Maddux is the starting pitcher going for win No. 350. Welcome to The Show!
Luke Carlin: You couldn't have written a better script, could ya?
HK: Not whatsoever. You've been called up. Hoping to just get in a game. Then you learn you're catching Greg Maddux in your debut. Who gave you the news?
LC: Two parts to that story. One: A buddy told me that I might be catching Greg on Saturday so I kind of got butterflies right there. I was trying take it all in. It was my first day in the clubhouse. Finally, later that day they [Padres Manager Bud Black] confirmed that I was going to catch him.
Two: I was so out of touch with the news, I had no idea it was 350 until later that night. I was talking with my wife and she says, "You know if you guys win, it's going to be his 350th." So I was like, Oh baby, I didn't need to know that [laughs really loud].
HK: You didn't want to know that?
LC: No, more added pressure. But everything worked out ok.
HK: What was the pregame meeting with Maddux like as you were preparing to neutralize a Rockies lineup featuring Matt Holliday and Todd Helton? Here you have a guy in the league for 23 years and you who's been up for 23 minutes.
LC: Well there wasn't much of a meeting. It was more like him talking and I'm listening. There wasn't much interaction. No, in all seriousness, Greg and our pitching coach Darren Balsley did a great job of preparing me to get in the right frame of mind to catch him. Greg was just like, "Hey, this is what I'm going to do to these guys. This is where I want you to set up. Just sit back and have fun. Do what you do." The meeting was short and he tried to make me as comfortable as possible.
HK: Here you have a man that's a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Did Maddux call the pitches?
LC: Well, I had to put down the signs. He told me, "Call whatever pitch you think you should call and I'll go from there."
HK: How many times did he shake you off?
LC: Not many times. Maybe five or six. But the great thing with Greg is that he hits the glove every time. It really doesn't matter what sign you put down. He's gonna throw the pitch in the right location anyways. It's not pitch selection, it's execution. That's the thing in baseball. It's not what kind of pitch you throw, it's execution. He executed all his pitches in order to get the win. Calling a game for a guy like Greg becomes really easy for a catcher because he had such a better plan than I did.
At the minor-league level sometimes it's the other way around. I have to try to convince the pitchers, Hey, this is what we should do. When I got up here it was, Hey, keep your mouth shut. Greg knows what he's doing. Let's go.
HK: Not only did you get to catch Maddux, but you had the opportunity to catch Trevor Hoffman to close the game. What was the feeling when he came sprinting out to get the save in the ninth?
LC: Like I said, I couldn't have written a better script. At first I thought I was gonna have the goose bumps. The anticipation of your first major-league game. But Greg made me so relaxed, I didn't get those nervousness butterflies. And then I was standing in the dugout on the top step waiting for Trevor Hoffman to come out and they played the song Hells Bells and I just got the chills. I had goose bumps all-over saying, "This is really happening." We're gonna win this game and I'm catching the best closer in the world right now. It was unbelievable.
I turned to home plate umpire Ed Hickox right before we started that top of the ninth and I said, "Ed, can you believe I'm catching two Hall of Famers today?" It was something special I'll never forget.
HK: You're behind the plate with Trevor on the mound. You call the change-up. Why is it so tough to hit?
LC: Besides saying that it's an unbelievable pitch, it's hard to explain. As a hitter you know that a good change-up requires a lot of arm speed and a lot of deception. He's the best at that. It almost looks like he's throwing the ball harder than when he's throwing his fastball and it's almost 15 mph slower. That's why it's so good.
HK: Wow, what a night.
LC: You better believe it.