— It seemed almost unfair that in this storybook season for the Orioles, 19-year-old pitching prospect Dylan Bundy did not get the storybook ending that was supposed to come with his major league debut on Sunday afternoon at historic Fenway Park.
He came on in the eighth inning to get his team out of a jam and leave himself within a modest ninth-inning rally of earning a doubly significant first career victory in the thick of the American League pennant race, but it was not quite to be.
The Orioles' late-inning luck ran out when Jim Thome's pinch-hit liner into the right field corner bounced over the low fence near the "Pesky Pole" for a ground-rule double and kept Mark Reynolds from streaking home with the tying run. There were two more chances with the bases loaded to turn the game around with one swing, but Red Sox closer Andrew Bailey retired Manny Machado and Ryan Flaherty to avert a three-game sweep that would have lifted the Orioles back into a first-place tie in the AL East.
Bundy had to settle for the arcane distinction of being the 16th youngest player to appear in a game for the Orioles, but he was still all smiles. What kid wouldn't be on the day he achieved his life-long dream?
"I was nervous at first," Bundy said. "When I threw that first pitch, I was hoping it would be a strike, but after that first pitch I felt a whole lot better about the whole thing."
That first pitch was delivered to Red Sox rookie Ryan Lavarnway, who took a 92 mile-per-hour fastball for a ball before launching the next pitch to deep center field for the second out of the inning. Bundy worked in his slider in a longer confrontation with Red Sox third baseman Danny Valencia before getting him to loft a 2-2 fastball to right field to end the inning.
Maybe in the greater scheme of things, those two outs won't make a big difference in the Orioles' late-season drive toward the playoffs, but everybody in the bullpen and the Orioles' dugout understood the significance of Bundy's arrival.
"It was pretty fun being down there watching it,"said right-hander Tommy Hunter, who picked up the bullpen phone when the call came in and told Bundy to start getting ready. "The guys were sitting down there talking about what our first times were like. I'm just happy for the kid."
There was never a guarantee that Bundy would get to pitch in September. Manager Buck Showalter hinted at it as far back as spring training, but club officials seemed intent on holding him back until the surprise announcement on Wednesday that he was being called up from the club's instructional camp in Sarasota, Fla. , to provide some bullpen insurance after the Tuesday/Wednesday 18-inning marathon at Safeco Field in Seattle.
Even after his arrival, Showalter left open the possibility that he would not get into a game and could possibly be sent back to Florida before the end of the regular season. Now, it appears that he'll stick around in case he is needed again.
So, Bundy can be forgiven for being caught a bit off-guard when the phone rang in the bullpen late Sunday afternoon.
"As a bullpen guy you never know when you are going in, especially me," he said. "I didn't know what situation I would be in. Tommy Hunter answered the phone and told me I was going in. I said, 'What?' and I couldn't find my glove, took me about a minute to find it. And he told me to get going. So, I was like, 'OK, it's happening,' and I got loose as quick as I could."
There was nothing ceremonial about the appearance. Showalter needed a couple outs in a non-save, close-game situation and the stars were aligned just right for Bundy. Otherwise, he'd still be waiting to pop his head out of the bullpen.
"We've got a doubleheader tomorrow," Showalter said, "and if you start pitching people who shouldn't be pitching, you're going to be pretty short tomorrow. We were behind in the game. It was a good spot for Dylan down in the order to kind of get him going a little bit. I was proud of him. He handled it well."
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck in his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here" on baltimoresun.com and listen when he co-hosts "The Week in Review" on Fridays at noon on WBAL (1090AM) and wbal.com.