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Long's dominant debut for hometown Giants 'felt like a dream'

NBC Sports

Making your MLB debut isn't as simple as finding your way to the ballpark and tugging on your jersey, not when you've waited as long as Sammy Long has and been through as much. Long had to leave about 30 tickets for family members and friends at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas on Wednesday. 

It was a cheering section that stayed standing throughout his four-plus innings, and one that was so large it led fellow Giants teammates to joke with the rookie that he was playing for free on his first day in the big leagues. 

It was a hectic stretch for the 25-year-old from Sacramento -- until he kicked at the dirt on the mound for the first time. 

"Probably the most comfortable I felt in these last three days was on the mound," he said. "It felt like I was in my element."

It looked that way, too.

Long, who burst on the scene this spring and then earned two quick promotions by striking out 14.7 batters per nine innings in the minors, replicated that success against a big league team. It did not lead to a win for the Giants, not after Tyler Rogers blew a save in the ninth and Jake McGee made a poor two-strike pitch in the 11th.

But the 4-3 loss to the Rangers came with a huge silver lining. It very much looks like the Giants have found a big contributor for the next four months. 

 

Long faced 14 hitters in his debut and struck out seven of them. He got 10 swinging strikes on 69 pitches, showing a fastball that touched 95 mph and a big, looping curveball that has flummoxed hitters at every level this season.

The Rangers do not have a good lineup, and Wednesday's version was particularly light on talent, but they're still big leaguers, the best hitters Long has ever faced. And he carved them up as he has everyone else this season. 

"You're always curious because Major League hitters lay off more pitches at the edges, they foul off more pitches that get younger hitters, and A-ball and Double-A hitters swing through them," manager Gabe Kapler said. "You get bailed out more frequently when you're pitching at the lower levels and obviously at this level they're the best hitters in the world. 

"I don't think there's any doubt that Sammy is going to get swings and misses on his pitches. But strikeouts are a different story altogether, and it was great to see all of his stuff play deep into counts, getting the chases below the zone, getting guys to swing just off the plate. Those are all good signs of what's to come."

What's next is a bit of a mystery. The Giants do still need a fifth starter, and Kapler said he doesn't see "any reason why if it made sense strategically, we wouldn't have him on the table to start a game for us." Long could be part of the solution for the bullpen, too, or the Giants could keep being creative. 

They used an opener in front of Long and went right, left, right, left to get a 2-1 lead to Rogers. Those four relievers combined for 12 strikeouts, but Rogers needed some of that, too. He is a pitch-to-contact type, and on this day that burned him. A bloop tied the game and the Rangers won it in the 11th on Brock Holt's hard single off McGee. 

"This is one of the challenges for Tyler Rogers," Kapler said. "He's a guy that induces a ton of weak contact and we love that about him. At the same time, there are going to be days where balls find holes and they go past diving infielders, sometimes they bloop over infielders' heads.

"I would take the way Tyler Rogers pitches in big moments over and over because more times than not that weak contact is going to turn into converted outs, but as we've seen it's not a ton of swing-and-miss. Balls are going to be in play and at times it's going to bite us, and today it did."

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The blown save meant Long came away without a win, but he didn't leave the ballpark empty-handed. He plans to keep the jersey and cap from his first big league game, along with the ball from the first of his seven strikeouts. 

 

He will also never forget the moment he came off the mound and finally looked around, eyeing the third deck and the thousands who had watched him dominate, including more than two dozen family members and friends.  

"It was everything I've dreamed of," he said. "Kap came out and he told me to take a second, look around and take it all in, because that was a really special moment for my career. It was awesome to be able to fist-bump all those guys I looked up to growing up. It just felt like a dream.

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