Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
Once a top prospect for the Baltimore Orioles, Blue Jays pitcher Kevin Gausman made his first career start at Rogers Centre.
Umpire Tony Randazzo stepped onto home plate, waiving out at the 22-year-old on the mound.
The gangly pitcher in the baggy grey pants didn’t hear Randazzo, scratching at the dirt with his toe. It wasn’t until Kevin Gausman looked up from under his orange brim that he realized the ump was trying to do him a favor.
Randazzo motioned Gausman to toss the ball toward the Orioles dugout, saving a souvenir from his first big league pitch. Thanks to Randazzo, he still has that ball, and Gausman came away from the debut checking just about every box for a big-league starter—first pitch, first strikeout, first homer allowed, and more.
“I think I did just about everything you can do in a game," Gausman said.
Eight years later, Gausman is set to make another debut at Roger Centre on Saturday. Before his Blue Jay premiere, we look back at the starter's first taste of the big leagues in Toronto.
Gausman got three batters into his debut before the moment hit him. It wasn't a bad pitch tanked oppo, a painted strike, or a crazy batter charging the mound. The realization came after the 22-year-old spun and fired a check-in throw over to first. Melky Cabrera was safe, stepping back to the bag with ease, but the 21,466 Blue Jays fans in attendance weren't pleased with the rookie, and they let him hear it.
“That was my like, wow, I’m in the big leagues," Gausman said.
Gausman was a top prospect his entire way up—the fourth overall pick—chirped, cheered, and jeered at minor league ballparks. But never 20,000 collectively voicing their displeasure. After the boos stopped, he didn't throw over for the rest of the game.
“In the minors, you don’t hear them because there’s not that many fans," he said. "Or you don’t care. Or you don’t pick off because it’s the minors."
Gausman silenced the cascading boos himself. The rookie pushed three fastballs by Edwin Encarnacion, each faster than the last, catching the slugger staring for his first career strikeout in the bottom of the opening inning.
Encarnacion lingered in the box, staring down at the plate in disbelief. After he finished mentally measuring just how inside Gausman's final heater landed, the Toronto three-hole hitter returned to the dugout visibly fuming. Almost a decade later Gausman is happy to admit Encarnacion's anger was justified.
“It was a ball," Gausman said. "It was a ball in off the plate, but they gave it to me.”
Gausman registers his first career big league strikeout
Four pitches later, Gausman doubled his career strikeout total. After sitting down Adam Lind, the Baltimore hurler jogged off the mound with a smile creeping onto his face.
Approaching the Orioles dugout, Gausman looked up to catch some familiar faces and cheers. The organization had placed the rookie's parents and close family right behind the Baltimore dugout, clapping for Gausman as he finished the first frame of his career.
"They had like the best seat in the house to watch my first start," Gausman said.
Gausman's dad insists his son pitches better when he's in the ballpark. Before big games, he'll text Gausman asking to leave a ticket for him at the stadium—"just in case." His mother, Jo, doesn't come to games much anymore—too stressful—but when she does, Gausman can hear her voice over anyone else. And after bad starts, he hears it too.
"She's my biggest critic," Gausman said with a grin. "She thinks I should do how I did in high school. 'Why didn't you strike out 12?'"
Lind was the toughest out on the Jays in early 2013, per Gausman, but it was another lefty who put up the biggest fight, outfielder Colby Rasmus.
Rasmus grabbed at his helmet stepping into the box, looking to inflict immediate damage after three straight hits began the fourth inning. The lefty lashed at Gausman’s first pitch, finding only air on his introduction to the splitter. The split has always been Gausman’s signature weapon, throwing it at least 20% of the time in each of his eight MLB seasons—up to 41% in 2021.
He went to the split six times in the Rasmus at-bat, earning swinging strikes and foul offs before the final pitch fell just below the zone. The eight-pitch walk loaded the bases and earned a mound visit from Orioles pitching coach Rick Adair.
Arms were warming in the pen but, after an Emilio Bonafacio sac fly scored Toronto’s second run, Gausman got Munenori Kawasaki and Melky Cabrera on three pitches to escape.
Rasmus watches an eighth-pitch splitter from Gausman for ball four
Gausman twirled the ball in his right hand before hurling a fastball inside on J.P. Arencibia. The Toronto catcher turned on the pitch, dropping his bat and releasing a clear “boom baby” as the homer cleared the left field wall.
The dinger gave Toronto the lead, but it also earned Arencibia bragging rights, as Gausman later learned. The Toronto backstop joined the Orioles at spring training two years later and “knew right away” he was the guy who tagged Gausman when the two met.
“I remember everybody was talking about you before the game,” Arencibia told Gausman. “How you were the number one prospect making your debut and everybody wanted to be the first one to hit a homer off you.”
J.P. Arencibia hits the first MLB homer against Gausman
After Arencibia's two-run jack, Gausman stayed in, striking out Brett Lawrie to end the inning. When he returned to the road dugout, a handshake and knee slap from Baltimore manager Buck Showalter ended his day.
5.0 IP, 4 ER, 7 H, 2 BB, 5 K
Was Gausman's debut up to his mother's standard?
"No," Gausman chuckled. "Wasn't good enough."
Mitch Bannon is a baseball reporter for Sports Illustrated covering the Toronto Blue Jays and their minor league affiliates.