Long fans 7 in debut: 'I was in my element'

June 10th, 2021

ARLINGTON -- Left-hander Sammy Long completed his improbable rise to the Majors by delivering an electric performance in his Giants debut on Wednesday afternoon, racking up seven strikeouts over four-plus innings in a 4-3 extra-inning loss to the Rangers at Globe Life Field. 

Long retired 12 of the 14 batters he faced and was charged with one run on one hit and one walk in the 69-pitch outing. Long did the heavy lifting in a bullpen game for the Giants, who used six relievers to fill in for injured right-hander Logan Webb.

“That was above and beyond right there,” Long said. “It’s been a crazy few days, but that was probably the most comfortable I felt in these last three days. On the mound, I felt like I was in my element. That was a really awesome day.”

The Giants took a 2-1 lead into the bottom of the ninth after Jason Vosler and Chadwick Tromp hammered back-to-back home runs off Kyle Gibson in the fifth, but Tyler Rogers gave up a leadoff single to Isiah Kiner-Falefa, who stole second, advanced to third on a sacrifice fly and then scored the tying run after Adolis García dunked a single to shallow right field to force extras.

San Francisco and Texas traded runs in the 10th, but the Giants couldn’t add on in the 11th after their automatic runner, LaMonte Wade Jr., was thrown out after being caught in a rundown between second and third base. Brock Holt delivered the decisive hit in the bottom of the 11th off Jake McGee, lining an 0-2 fastball to center field for a walk-off single.

The Giants (38-23) missed an opportunity to sweep this two-game Interleague series and match the Rays for the most wins in the Majors, but the defeat couldn’t dampen the club’s enthusiasm over Long. He earned his first big league callup after logging a 1.99 ERA with 37 strikeouts over 22 2/3 innings in six appearances (five starts) between Double-A Richmond and Triple-A Sacramento this year. 

“I don’t think we could have drawn it up any better for Sammy,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “I thought he was poised. He obviously used all of his weapons and was able to execute all of them for strikes. He had great carry on his fastball. I think the line is incredibly impressive for the first time out at the Major League level. It was just an excellent performance all the way around.”

Long, 25, was selected from Triple-A before the game and took the mound in the second inning after Zack Littell worked a scoreless first as the opener. 

Long retired the first three batters he faced before issuing a leadoff walk to Charlie Culberson to start the third. Culberson swiped second to give the Rangers a runner in scoring position with no outs, but Long left him stranded by striking out Eli White, Jonah Heim and Kiner-Falefa to end the inning. 

He struck out five in a row after whiffing Holt and García to start the fourth, effectively mixing his mid-90s fastball, 12-to-6 curveball and changeup.

"I thought that Long was good,” Holt said. “Obviously, he was making his debut and had a lot of punchouts. He had a good fastball that had life, a really good curveball that he was throwing a lot today.”

The eye-popping strikeout numbers are nothing new for Long, who has now fanned 44 of 98 (44.9%) hitters he’s faced between the Majors and Minors this year, but Kapler admitted that he was curious to see how the rookie’s stuff would play against big leaguers. 

“I don’t think there’s any doubt that Sammy is going to get swings and misses on his pitches, but strikeouts are a different story altogether,” Kapler said. “It was great to see all of his stuff play deep into counts, get the chases below the zone and get guys to swing at pitches just off the plate. Those are all good signs of what’s to come.”

After getting through four innings on 69 pitches, Long returned to the mound to start the sixth, but he was removed after surrendering a leadoff double to White, who produced the Rangers’ first hit of the game and later scored on Kiner-Falefa’s RBI groundout off Dominic Leone. As he walked off the field, Long gazed around Globe Life Field to soak in the moment and appreciate his long journey to the big leagues. 

“Everything that I’ve dreamed of right there,” Long said. 

A Sacramento native, Long is a former 18th-round Draft pick by the Rays who briefly quit professional baseball after he was unexpectedly released by Tampa Bay on the final day of Spring Training in 2018. 

After returning home, Long enrolled in EMT classes at his alma mater, Sacramento State, and contemplated a career as a firefighter before deciding he wasn’t ready to give up on his Major League dream. He began working out at Optimum Athletes, overhauled his diet and eventually landed a Minor League deal with the White Sox after footage from one of his throwing sessions gained traction on the internet. 

When Long became a free agent following the 2020 season, he signed a Minor League contract with the Giants and quickly turned heads during Spring Training, making his goal feel increasingly within reach. 

“I think the day I decided to give it another shot was the day I started believing,” Long said. “When I showed up to Spring Training this year and actually proved to myself that I could go and get outs at that level, I proved myself right.”

His dream finally became a reality on Wednesday, when he got a chance to compete alongside three Giants he grew up rooting for in Buster Posey, Brandon Crawford and Brandon Belt.  

“That’s kind of when it sank in,” Long said. “It’s like, ‘I’m on these guys’ team, and they believe in me to help them win.’ That was just really reassuring and really cool to share the field with those guys.”