Emanuel excels in 'wild' debut: 'I was ready'

April 25th, 2021

HOUSTON – Most people usually need to finish their morning cup of coffee before they can function at peak levels at work. That wasn’t an issue for Astros pitcher .

Emanuel had just settled into a chair in the bullpen at Minute Maid Park in the first inning with a cup of coffee Saturday afternoon, anticipating his Major League debut might come later in the day. He barely had time to blow the steam off his java before the bullpen phone rang and one of the most remarkable relief pitching performances in team history followed.

“All of a sudden they were like, ‘Hey, you better start loosening up,’” Emanuel said. “So here we go.”

Emanuel, wearing No. 0 on his back, threw up a bunch of zeros for the Astros.

After Astros starter Jake Odorizzi was forced to leave the 16-2 win over the Angels after just five pitches, retiring one hitter, with tightness in his forearm, Emanuel threw 8 2/3 innings in relief to nail down the victory. It was the longest outing by an Astros pitcher this season. Emanuel is also the first pitcher since 1974 (John Montefusco) to pitch eight-plus innings in relief and get the win in his MLB debut.

Emanuel, a 28-year-old left-hander who was called up Friday, threw 90 pitches, giving up solo homers to Albert Pujols in the second and Shohei Ohtani in the third. He allowed five hits and no walks and struck out five batters.

“It’s pretty wild, but I've been expecting this moment for quite some time now,” he said. “I was ready.”

Emanuel became the first reliever to throw 8 2/3 innings since the Yankees’ Neil Allen on May 31, 1988 at Oakland. It was the longest relief outing by an Astros pitcher since Mike Cosgrove (8 2/3 innings) on June 18, 1974. The club record is nine relief innings by Dave Giusti on May 30, 1962.

“You just don’t know who you’re facing when we’ve never seen him before,” Angels manager Joe Maddon said. “I mean, after all, he wears the number zero his first year out as a pitcher. That tells you something about him, so there’s a lot to like.”

Because there was an injury, Emanuel had as much time as he needed to warm up and took advantage of it, playing some catch and long toss from behind the mound before doing his warmup pitches. He retired Ohtani to start his outing and went on to set down 16 of the next 19 batters he faced.

“I’m always apprehensive of a guy saying he’s ready and everybody’s getting impatient and wanting the game to start,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “He took his time and [catcher] Jason Castro directed him through the game. At first, he was a little bit overamped. He was throwing a lot of fastballs and then Jason and him settled in and he started using all his pitches.”

Emanuel said he started feeling comfortable when he struck out Jared Walsh to start the fourth inning. By the sixth, he told Baker he could finish the game, though the manager was skeptical. But Emanuel got double plays in the seventh, eighth and ninth to save his pitch count and allow him to finish.

“I was able to get down in the zone as we went on through the game,” he said. “That was big for me. That was a big part of my game, just keeping the ball on the ground. Once I was able to do that, I was able to get some double plays when I needed. That was the big thing.”

Emanuel has logged 532 innings in the Minor Leagues since the Astros drafted him out of North Carolina in 2013, and has endured injuries and an 80-game suspension after testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs, a ban which ended Thursday. His parents, several friends and his college coach, Mike Fox, were in the stands at Minute Maid Park on Saturday and couldn’t have imagined they’d see Emanuel make history.

“Regardless of what’s going on, your job is to throw up zeros,” he said. “I felt the same way out there that I always do. I think I’m pretty good at compartmentalizing and just trying to stay in the game.”