PITTSBURGH -- Maybe it was a coincidence, Brian Moran said. Or maybe it was “something that’s meant to be.” Either way, he understood the significance of the moment.
“It’s pretty special,” Brian said.
It’s been more than a decade since the left-handed pitcher was selected by the Mariners in the seventh round of the 2009 Draft. During that time, he’s pitched in the Minors, recovered from Tommy John surgery, bounced in and out of the independent Atlantic League, grinded through winter ball and waited for his chance.
But what were the odds that when Brian’s turn came, when he finally scaled a Major League mound for the first time, he’d be staring down his younger brother? It happened in the fourth inning of the Marlins' 10-7 win on Thursday night at PNC Park. Brian, the Marlins left-hander, made his MLB debut and struck out Pirates third baseman Colin Moran with a full-count slider.
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“I was a little more nervous than I thought I’d be when I saw him step in the box,” Brian said after the game. “I fell behind in the count, and then once I got to 3-2, I felt like if I could drop a slider in, I felt I could get him. It was also risky, because if I missed with it, I would have looked like I didn’t want any part of him. It was a high-risk, high-reward situation.”
It paid off. Colin said he was expecting a fastball, figuring his big brother would come right at him. He said he had “probably a million things” going through his mind before, during and after the at-bat, but he allowed himself to smile as he walked back to the dugout.
“There’s certain moments, I feel like, that happen up here that you just have to take a step back and really appreciate how hard it is to get there and really enjoy the moment,” Colin said.
After the strikeout, Brian completed a scoreless bottom half of the fourth inning and the Miami's offense erupted for four runs in the top of the fifth, breaking open a deadlocked game and putting Brian in line for his first Major League victory.
“When you come in, you want to try to keep it where it is and let the offense have a chance to come back,” Brian said. “It all working out that way was unbelievable. … You can’t draw it up any better.”
It wasn't just special. It was historically rare. The Moran-Moran matchup marked the first time since 1900 that a player faced his brother in a pitcher-vs.-batter scenario in his Major League debut, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
It was only the seventh time since 1900 that a player made his debut against his brother’s team. It hadn’t been done in the Majors since June 7, 1998, when Alex Cora’s Dodgers beat Joey Cora’s Mariners, 7-4.
“It’s incredible. It’s a very exciting moment in time. Very exciting,” said Bill Moran, their father, who was in the stands with the Moran family to see the matchup in person. “Never thought something like this would ever happen, that’s for sure.”
The last time 30-year-old Brian and 26-year-old Colin lined up against each other like they did on Thursday night? In the Moran family’s backyard, Bill said, where home plate was a stone and third base was a tree. Brian called those matchups “pretty competitive.” Their father described them only as “intense.”
“They were good,” Colin added. “Usually ended up in a fight.”
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This one ended with a joke. Colin turned around after striking out and pretended to grab the ball, later saying he would “hold it for ransom or something.” He has an idea where his brother’s first strikeout ball will wind up instead.
“I’m pretty sure it’ll be on his mantel,” Colin said. “Every time I walk into the house.”
That was about as emotional as you’ll see the stoic Colin get on the field -- but Brian has seen that and more before.
“He doesn’t show it all that much. He keeps his emotions underneath his red beard,” Brian said. “But he’s definitely gotten upset with me more than a handful of times.”
That’s how it goes for most brothers, but make no mistake: Brian was Colin’s friend and role model growing up. When they were kids, their grandmother drove them to Major League ballparks around the country to watch B.J. Surhoff, their uncle.
“It’s tough not to think about her watching down on us, my whole family, just the path that got us here,” Colin said.
When Brian played baseball at Iona Prep High School in New Rochelle, N.Y., there was no doubt Colin would do the same four years later. Brian went to the University of North Carolina, so that became Colin’s dream.
“Anything he did, I was going to do,” Colin said. “I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the example that he set, so it’s pretty cool.”
Neither Moran brother took a direct path to the Majors. Brian made 344 appearances for five organization and underwent Tommy John surgery in 2014 before getting his first chance with the Marlins this month.
As Brian walked off the mound, he blew a kiss toward the stands to his wife, Jackie, his partner in his 10-year journey through the Minors.
“She’s just been there the whole time,” said an emotional Brian. “I guess it was worth the wait, you could say, because it was about as cool as it gets.”
Meanwhile, Colin was traded twice after being selected sixth overall in the 2013 Draft, and his first real shot in Houston ended abruptly when he took a foul ball to the face. Oddly, Brian wound up making his debut for the team that originally drafted Colin.
“He’s been my inspiration my whole life. Just never giving up has been the theme of his career,” Colin said. “A lesser man would’ve given up with the road he’s had to go through. … There’s a million reasons why that was special.”
The Moran family has lived a baseball life, with many memorable moments throughout both players’ careers and still more to come. But Thursday night in Pittsburgh will always be, as Brian said, pretty special.
“I think the last three days have been some of the most exciting, moving days that I’ve experienced,” Brian said. “I don’t think you could dream up a cooler situation. I’m so excited I got to share it with my family.”
Adam Berry covers the Rays for MLB.com and covered the Pirates from 2015-21. Follow him on Twitter @adamdberry.