NEW YORK -- Justus Sheffield was so nervous when he climbed the Yankee Stadium mound in the ninth inning for the first time in the Yankees' 10-1 win over the Red Sox on Wednesday night that he thought he'd trip over it. Once he didn't, still shaking, he thought he
NEW YORK -- Justus Sheffield was so nervous when he climbed the Yankee Stadium mound in the ninth inning for the first time in the Yankees' 10-1 win over the Red Sox on Wednesday night that he thought he'd trip over it. Once he didn't, still shaking, he thought he would balk. Such are the jitters that come gift-wrapped with Major League debuts, especially ones as highly-anticipated as Sheffield's.
"My legs felt like Jell-O," said Sheffield. "As soon as I got on the mound, I thought it would settle down a bit, but the nerves and the adrenaline, my heart was pumping quite a bit."
It only slowed after Sheffield had escaped a sticky situation of his own creation to notch a scoreless first inning in pinstripes. To do so, Sheffield had to coax a bases-loaded double play out of Mookie Betts to end the game.
With the win, New York staved off elimination in the American League East for another night. The Yankees also got their first glimpse of Sheffield, the club's No. 1 prospect per MLB Pipeline. The left-hander allowed two hits and walked a batter.
"I honestly can't even describe it," Sheffield said. "There were so many emotions going through my head. A lot of excitement. A lot of nerves. The fans were awesome. I even heard my name. That's how you know I wasn't really locked in, but it was a great experience."
The debut came in front of nine family members and friends, including his grandparents and brothers. Sheffield also found it notable how he had to face Betts, with whom he has a brief history, to complete it. Both Sheffield and Betts, the AL MVP frontrunner, back in the Red Sox lineup after a two-day absence due to a minor left side injury, are from Tennessee. They'd crossed paths previously while working out in the offseason at Vanderbilt University, where Sheffield was drafted out of two Junes ago. Betts acknowledged Sheffield with a head nod before stepping in, then yanked his fifth pitch just beyond the left-field foul pole.
"Thankfully he hooked it a little bit," Sheffield said. "If he'd have hit a homer off me, I wouldn't have been too happy."
Betts rolled over Sheffield's next pitch, a 3-2 fastball, and the left-hander escaped. The question now is: Where does he fit going forward? Sheffield is expected to compete for a rotation spot next spring, but any appearance he makes down the stretch could realistically be considered an audition for a possible postseason role out of the bullpen. The parallels, in particular, to Boston starter David Price, who took the loss Wednesday, are plain to see. Price was 22 years old and one year removed from college when he debuted for the Rays in September 2008. He went on to play a pivotal role as a reliever that postseason, helping Tampa Bay reached its first and only World Series, before becoming a star as a starter.
The Yankees' need for relief help is less drastic than the Rays' was a decade ago, especially after Albertin Chapman returned from the disabled list Wednesday. Dellin Betances, Zach Britton, Player Page for David Robertson, all former closers, remain rooted in high-leverage roles. But perhaps Sheffield can prove to be a weapon in the middle innings.
He'll likely get a chance to earn such a role in the weeks to come.
"I just want to go out there and get outs," Sheffield said. "I said from the start I'm not here to hang around. I'm here to get outs and do my job."
Joe Trezza is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @joetrezz.