A week had passed since Ken Giles last appeared in a baseball game, and there was never a more nerve-racking period for the 23-year-old righthander from New Mexico. He became a major-league pitcher on Sunday, but his activity was restricted to the bullpen.
Then pitching coach Bob McClure called in the ninth inning of a 7-3 Phillies rout Thursday and asked for Giles to warm up. Manager Ryne Sandberg handed Giles the ball with two outs for his major-league debut. Giles thought he would fall over as he jogged to the mound.
"I was pumped," Giles said. "All I wanted to do was get out there and get it over with. I didn't care how it turned out to be, I just wanted to get that one out of the way."
His first batter, San Diego's Yasmani Grandal, homered on a 95-m.p.h. fastball. "I was going to swing even if it was 10 feet over my head," Grandal said. Giles struck out Alexi Amarista on an 89-m.p.h. slider. Welcome to the majors.
"You got both of them out of the way," catcher Wil Nieves told Giles. "First homer and first strikeout."
Giles' presence was anticipated because of his triple-digit fastball. He fired his first one at 99.1 m.p.h., according to PITCHf/x data. The Citizens Bank Park scoreboard displayed "FASTBALL 100 m.p.h.," and fans roared.
Giles heard the cheers. His goal was to throw the next pitch as fast as he could before the velocity reading reached the scoreboard. He was not quick enough.
"I know that I showed them what I can throw and what I can do," Giles said. "Now that I got the first one out of the way, it's just time to pitch."
Count Nieves, the veteran backup catcher, was impressed.
"That was nasty," he said of Giles' first fastball. He thought the rookie was too juiced on the next few, and it showed when the pitches were elevated in the strike zone. Giles threw Amarista two sliders, one for a called strike and the other a swinging strike.
"It looked just like a fastball," Nieves said. "You have to cheat a little bit when he throws 100 miles per hour."
Sandberg will ease Giles into a middle-relief role. He is no savior, and Thursday offered a new lesson.
"I was glad to see him get back in the strike zone," Sandberg said. "That's the major leagues. It's a different level."