As Sam Clay was pitching on the sandlot in Knoxville, Tennessee as a kid, he dreamed about taking the mound in the majors. On Wednesday, he realized that dream as he made his MLB debut against his favorite childhood team, the Atlanta Braves.
Clay entered the game for Washington in the top of the fourth inning with the Nationals in a bit of a jam, trailing Atlanta 6-5. To make matters worse, the top of the Braves' batting order was due up.
Clay allowed a single to Ronald Acuña Jr. in the first at-bat. Then, he retired Ozzie Albies on a groundout. Next up was reigning National League MVP Freddie Freeman. With a full count, one out and a man on second, Clay delivered an 86 mile per hour curveball to strike Freeman out looking.
Clay couldn’t let up yet, as he now faced cleanup hitter Marcell Ozuna. With another full count, he delivered an 84 mph slider. Swing and a miss, strike three.
That would end Clay’s outing, which concluded with enviable numbers: one inning pitched, two strikeouts, one hit allowed, and zero earned runs.
“It felt great. There was a little bit of nerves, but that always seems to happen,” said Clay postgame. “I was just glad that I could come out and pitch pretty well and have a zero [ERA].”
What might be most uplifting about Clay’s debut was that he grew up in Georgia rooting for Atlanta. “It’s pretty crazy, I grew up a Braves fan. I’ve seen all these guys play for quite a while…it was a little crazy just because you see these guys on TV, and then you’re standing up on the mound and you see ‘em standing there, and they just look like giants,” Clay said. “It was just incredible to face the Braves in my debut.”
Clay is familiar with the city of Atlanta having played collegiate ball for Georgia Tech prior to being selected in the fourth round by the Minnesota Twins in the 2014 MLB Draft. For six years, Clay pitched in the minors and waited for his chance to make the Twins’ major league roster. That opportunity never came and Clay became a free agent after the 2020 season.
Washington signed Clay to his first-ever major league deal in November 2020, and on Wednesday, the lefty achieved his dream of pitching at the highest level.
“It’s a great moment. It took a long time to get here. I’m just very glad I could get this first win out of the way and keep working hard, and just keep building on what I’ve done so far,” Clay said. “I’ve had to overcome a lot of adversity in these past couple years. That’s kind of my mantra, is just, ‘Keep pushing forward, keep moving forward. Adjust. Overcome.’”