As Brooks Kriske jogged in from the visitor's bullpen to pitch the bottom of the ninth inning on Wednesday night in Baltimore, overwhelming feelings of excitement exceeded his nerves.
The right-hander was set to make his Major League debut for the New York Yankees, a dream he thought was in jeopardy as recently as two years ago.
"I've been telling my friends and family that two years ago I wasn't sure this opportunity would ever come," Kriske said. "I was a 24-year-old in short-season A ball. So I was more excited, it was kind of a culmination of, you know, the work and and all the people that have supported me this whole time."
With the Yankees ahead 9-3 against the Orioles, Kriske put those thoughts aside. He had a job to do.
After walking the first hitter he faced, the right-hander set down the next three batters in order, including back-to-back strikeouts to end the game.
Kriske had been called up from the Yankees' alternate training site — part of the move that demoted outfielder Clint Frazier — over the weekend. Once he saw the Yankees start to run the score up on Baltimore, he knew Wednesday might be the night he toes the slab for the first time.
"I stay ready the whole time," he joked. "I'm always stretching and moving around. I try to tell myself that any situation I could be going in. Obviously when the lead got a little bit bigger I knew there was a chance, so I stayed locked in pretty much the whole time."
That focus and preparation was certainly worth it once he got on the mound. For the first strikeout of his career, Kriske painted the outside corner with a slider, retiring Baltimore's backstop Pedro Severino.
Then, after working the count full to DJ Stewart, Kriske blew a 95-mph fastball past the left fielder for the final out of the ball game.
When asked to single out the most memorable moment of his debut, Kriske didn't hesitate.
"I think the final out for the win," he said. "At the end of the day, I'm here to get outs, to help the team win ball [games] and get outs when they need outs. So yeah, getting the win and ending the game was probably the main thing."
Nonetheless, another moment made his night even more special.
Beyond his first career strikeout, beyond the bombardment of congratulatory text messages blowing up his phone, it was a present from Gerrit Cole — who pitched a gem earlier in the game — that ensured Kriske had a keepsake to hold onto for the rest of his life.
"Cole gave me the lineup card which was awesome," Kriske said. "It was awesome following him, he's the best pitcher on the planet. So, I have the lineup card and hopefully I'm getting the jersey and I'll give it my parents."
As any ballplayer would, Kriske had always envisioned his close friends and family in the seats looking on as he took the field for the first time in a big-league uniform. During this "weird" and "tough" time, however, the 26-year-old was understanding of the unprecedented circumstances.
"I know they were all watching," he said. "I definitely felt them with me."
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