Chris Rowley’s unusual journey to the major leagues culminated in a sharp debut and a standing ovation Saturday, as the rookie led the Toronto Blue Jays to a 7-2 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Rowley, who missed the 2014 and 2015 seasons to serve active duty in the U.S. Army, gave up one run in just over five mostly trouble-free innings as the Blue Jays (55-61) evened their three-game series in front of 46,179 under a closed Rogers Centre.
He admitted he was nervous a night before the game and anxious Saturday morning. With his parents and sister in attendance, the 26-year-old eventually settled his nerves but conceded that he got a “little emotional” during the crowd’s boisterous send-off.
“You have 45,000 people standing on their feet — that’s the first time I’ve ever seen that in person. That’s pretty cool,” he said.
‘Very emotional right now’
“[My family is] obviously very emotional right now,” he added. “I’m looking forward to spending the rest of the day with them.”
Rookie right-hander Trevor Williams gave up four runs (three earned) over six innings and Jordy Mercer hit a solo home run for the Pirates (58-59), who had sailed to five wins in their last six games heading into Saturday’s matinee.
Outside of allowing a Josh Bell triple in the second (which eventually resulted in a run) and a pair of hits in the sixth that chased him after 75 pitches, Rowley looked dependable in his debut. He scattered five hits and only one walk over 5 1/3 innings.
“Awesome, really,” Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said of his performance. “We’ve been looking for that.
“A debut is never easy,” he added. “But I thought he did a tremendous job. He ought to feel proud of himself.”
The Blue Jays wasted no time getting to the 25-year-old Williams, who was coming off his best start of the season against Detroit. In the first inning, Toronto turned Jose Bautista’s lead-off walk into a 1-0 lead after a Justin Smoak single and an RBI fielder’s choice from Steve…