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Minutiae Break: The Debut

So I'm at work on Monday and it had been about seven hours since I had eaten. A colleague wanted to go get dinner, but something was holding me back. He was rather insistent about going. I was rather insistent about waiting. He went. I stayed. That's how I got to see Mike Piazza's first at bat with the San Diego Padres. I'm glad I delayed my dining.

I invoked what I'm now calling the "Stanley Jefferson Rule." This is in reference to a story I told a few days ago about how I remember Jefferson's first at bat as a Met. I was in the bathtub on that particular day, 20 years ago, when my father's voice beckoned. I indicated that I could wait. Then he said words that I remember to this day.

"If he hits a home run, you'll regret that you missed it."

Stan the Man struck out in his Mets debut, while I was drying myself off, but that's besides the point. The important thing here is to understand the value of the debut.

A player, whether it be hitter or pitcher, only gets one chance to make a first impression. Sometimes that's their only impression. Sometimes it's the start of a wonderful friendship. I write this because Brian Bannister is scheduled to make his major-league debut in a few hours and I'm driving back to work to watch. There was a temptation to make the three-plus hour trip to Shea tonight, but in the end, I've decided watching on TV is the way to go.

I have had the opportunity to watch a few Mets debuts in person and I spent the better part of the last 24 hours trying to remember them all (unfortunately no walk-offs came to mind). The last one I can remember actually going out of my way to attend was on June 17, 1995, the date of Bill Pulsipher's first major-league start. Boy, that was a disaster, basically a foreshadowing of his Mets career. Pulse gave up five first-inning runs and seven in his seven-inning stint. It was quite an ugly showing, though I'm glad to know that something good eventually came out of it.

Sometimes you go to a game and just happen to be their for the debut moment. Amazingly this happened to me on three separate occasions during the 1987 season and the impact was significant, on both the team (all three games were Mets losses for a team that finished three games out of first place) and on me.

The first took place during the first weekend of the season in a game between the Mets and Braves. With the score tied 3-3 after six innings, Davey Johnson handed the baseball to David Cone, who'd been obtained in the offseason for backup catcher Ed Hearn. Cone had pitched briefly for the Royals prior to this game, but this was his Flushing out party, so to speak.

Cone gave the Mets two really good innings, then faltered slightly in the ninth, allowing back-to-back hits to grizzled vets Dale Murphy and Ken Griffey (Sr.), the latter of which produced the game-winning run. Though we didn't know just how good Cone was going to be, I remember being impressed by the performance. I was not a particularly big fan of trading Hearn, but I was a quick convert back then.

Cone's funky delivery was surpassed by that of Jeff Innis, who made his MLB debut on May 16 against the San Francisco Giants. Johnson put him in a tough spot, in a 4-4 tie entering the ninth inning and like Cone, Innis' initial returns were good. He struck out two with his underhand motion in the ninth, but then got touched up in the 10th. Jeffrey Leonard, batting a rather robust .368 stroked a long fly to right center field. To this day, I still think the ball nicked off Darryl Strawberry's glove in rightcenter, though the newspapers say Straw just missed it. The homer was the difference in the game, a 5-4 Giants win that left the Mets at 10-13.

A lot of people get confused when I tell them that I was at Bob Gibson's Mets debut and tell me I'm not old enough to remember the best big game pitcher of his era. That's true, as I had barely turned eight months old by the time of Gibson's last appearance in 1975. I am, however, old enough to remember Robert Louis Gibson, the Philadelphia native, whose first and last Mets appearance took place on July 25, 1987 against the Houston Astros. Gibson pitched a stellar eighth inning, striking out Kevin Bass and Ken Caminiti but couldn't prevent Don Schulze from suffering a 7-5 defeat. It may not have been a Hall of Fame worthy performance, but it allowed Gibson to say he had a near-perfect Mets debut. I imagine Bannister would like to say the same thing when his work gets completed tonight.


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