Caleb Killian’s much-anticipated debut at Wrigley Field on Saturday night brought back memories of similar debuts for the Chicago Cubs, from Jeff Pico to Kyle Hendrix.
You never know whether a Cubs pitcher’s debut is a harbinger of things to come or just a cameo appearance in a career that will soon be forgotten.
Killian showed on Saturday he had the right things, but a poor inning kept the Cubs’ top pitching prospect from making the night an entirely successful one. He threw 83 pitches in five innings in a 7–4, 10-innings defeat to the St. Louis Cardinals and allowed three runs, three hits and two walks while scoring six.
Before a 6-1 win in Game 1 of the Split doubleheader, Cubs manager David Ross — who watched a parade of celebrated prospects made his 2015 debut and ’16 — tempered hopes for Killian.
“From a player’s perspective, and even now as manager, sitting in this seat, it’s a lot of wait-and-see,” Ross said. “It is exciting from his point of view, (working hard) more to come. He has been influential in many ways. Still, you have to build your major-league career.
“Nobody knows how it’s going to turn out. I’m happy for him. All the hard work has paid off. Don’t try to publicize it too much. I don’t think any one player is always the savior. We’ve had a couple of young men work on it. Labeled. We’ll see how it goes, and we’ll analyze that later.”
The first impression is lasting, and Killian starts off with a bang. He hit the first two hitters and was perfect through the third before running into trouble in the fourth, when he loaded the bases with two walks and one. A wild pitch first brought the Cardinals home, and Brendan Donovan followed with a two-run double.
After passing the first nine hitters on only 31 pitches, Killian looked out of sync in the fourth, throwing 30 pitches in the innings. They trailed 3–1, but there was no decision after Christopher Morrell’s RBI double tie in the sixth game.
The game entered the twilight zone in the ninth when the Cardinals missed a chance to take the lead with David Robertson hitting two out singles from Nolan Gorman with two men. Edmundo Sosa would have easily scored from second, but missed touching third and had to retreat into the bag. Robertson then prompted Paul Goldschmidt to play a force with the loaded bases, eliminating the threat.
The Cubs trapped two in the ninth, sending the game into extra innings. The Cardinals scored four runs off Michael Rooker in the 10th.
Matt Swarmer, who made his debut on Monday, earned his first win in Saturday’s opener, allowing one run on two hits in six innings.
Swarmer was almost speechless after facing the likes of Albert Pujols and Paul Goldsmith.
“Just trying not to think too much about the hitters,” he said. “I know there are some big-name guys, but you have to avoid it (think about it). It’s definitely tough because you’re like, ‘Wow, that’s really in the box.'”
Frank Schwindell scored a pair and Scott Efros survived a base-loaded jam in seventh when plate umpire Bruce Drakeman struck Tommy Edman on a pitch several inches outside the zone.
Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol was kicked out by Drakemann for an argument in the next inning, and the Cardinals never threatened again.
On August 16, 2006, at Minute Maid Park, Ryan O’Malley was attempting to become his first Cubs starter in Game 2 after Ryan O’Malley defeated the Houston Astros by eight scoreless innings.
O’Malley had only a last-minute call-up from Triple-A Iowa because it was his turn to start and the Cubs were off the pitch after an 18-innings game last night. He barely had time to pack, but when asked later if he had enough clothes for a flight to Chicago, he wasn’t concerned.
“Oh yes, definitely,” he replied. “I won’t let my clothes get in the way.”
But the dream was short-lived and she didn’t need much of a wardrobe. O’Malley suffered a left elbow strain during the fifth inning of his Wrigley Field debut, a 6–3 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies.
After the game, O’Malley dismounted in front of the Waveland Avenue firehouse, where teammate Rich Hill tried to console him.
“It was like I was on cloud ninth and then I fell from it,” O’Malley said.
Hill is still pitching for the Boston Red Sox at age 42, but it would be the end of O’Malley’s major league career after only two outings. Similarly, Pico threw a four-hit shutout against the Cincinnati Reds in his debut on May 31, 1988, but won only 12 more games in a three-year career.
you never know.
The lowest combined Major-League innings by a pair of Cubs in a doubleheader came against the Cardinals on October 6, 1909, before Swarmer and Killian started on Saturday. Rudy Schwenk had two starts and nine innings under his belt while King Cole was making his big league debut—and threw a full-game shutout.
It’s been 46 years since the Cubs’ two pitchers started a doubleheader with less than one combined start. Neither Oscar Zamora nor Paul Richel, both timely relievers, debuted when they faced the San Francisco Giants at Candlestick Park on May 2, 1976.
No one forgets his first start, whatever the outcome may be.
But some are more memorable than others, and Killian can feel good about his performance.