Matt Peacock Had One Wild Debut
Arizona Diamondbacks reliever Matt Peacock went with the team on the season-opening road trip to San Diego and Denver as a member of the travel squad. If anyone came down with an injury, he was ready to step in and make his debut. Tuesday morning, less than 12 hours before the game against the Colorado Rockies, he received a phone call from manager Torey Lovullo. The coaching staff wanted to meet with him. In that meeting, Lovullo got to do something he hadn’t done in 10 years — tell a player that he had made the major league squad.
To think that this all happened to someone who, five years ago, walked away from baseball while attending the University of South Alabama. Arm problems in 2015 led to an ERA of 22.09, higher than the price of most entrees at Red Lobster. In 2016, Peacock gave up his roster spot. “There were some guys there who could help the team out, and I couldn’t,” Peacock said, “so I went and talked to our coach.” The coach told him, “Come on back if you want to. We like you.” After leaving the team, Peacock worked in his family’s sawmill. One of his jobs involved working on (as in, on top of) a broiler. When he noticed that it partially melted his boots, he decided to go back to baseball.
A Tough Place to Make a Debut
That job put his feet to the fire in the literal sense. His major league debut did it figuratively. Pitching at Coors Field, due to Denver’s famous elevation, is never a picnic. Its current multi-year Park Factor is 113, meaning that the amount of runs scored there is 13% higher than the league average. To put that into perspective, the NL average ERA in 2020 was 4.47. For a Rockies pitcher to have a park-adjusted ERA equal to the league average, his ERA would be 5.05. Multi-year veterans do not like pitching there, let alone rookies. A relief pitcher making his major league debut in Coors Field is certainly some combination of trial by fire and being thrown to the wolves.
There is an old dugout prank known as a hotfoot — something Hall of Fame pitcher Bert Blyleven became notorious for. It involves secretly rigging a teammate’s shoe with a lit matchstick. When the flame nears his shoe, he’ll dance in a panicked manner to get the fire out.
Working on the broiler did not make Peacock immune to the effects of a hotfoot. “Being on fire is pretty hot,” he said. He and his teammates probably would have welcomed a hotfoot or two, though, because it was freezing cold in Denver Tuesday evening. A 51-minute rain delay pushed the start time from 6:40 pm MDT to 7:31. At first pitch, the temperature was 39°F with an 11-mph wind blowing from left to right field. As the game progressed, the temperature dropped four more degrees.
Not So Fast…
Colder temperatures typically mean low-scoring games, and this was no exception. The game entered the bottom of the ninth with the Diamondbacks holding a 5-4 lead. With two outs and the bases empty, Chris Devenski — himself a story of perseverance — left a 1-1 changeup up in the zone, and center fielder Sam Hilliard crushed it halfway to Fort Collins.
That’s where the fun really started.
The extra-inning rule from 2020 has carried over to this season. Each time at bat in extra innings begins with the last out of the previous inning starting off on second base (unless it’s the pitcher’s spot in the batting order). In the top of the 10th, the Diamondbacks scored their runner. The Rockies did the same off Yoan Lopez in the bottom of the 10th. In the 11th, with speedster Tim Locastro opening the inning on second, the Diamondbacks did not plate a run.
Matt Peacock Makes His Debut
Enter Peacock. If Charlie Blackmon, who began the bottom of the 11th on second base, scored, the game would be over. A grounder to first by third baseman Ryan McMahon, who had already hit three solo homers, advanced Blackmon to third. An intentional walk to Hilliard put runners on the corners with one out. A ground-ball double play would get the Diamondbacks out of the inning unscathed. Hilliard took away that possibility when he advanced to second on defensive indifference with a 1-0 count. Now Peacock’s job was even more difficult. He had to get Elias Diaz to either strike out or ground out to a drawn-in infield.
On 2-0, Diaz hit a one-hopper back to the mound. Peacock snatched it out of the air. Blackmon had strayed too far from the bag at third and got caught in a rundown. Hilliard made it safely to third by inches, bringing up first baseman Josh Fuentes with two outs and runners on the corners. A liner to second ended the inning.
Catcher Stephen Vogt, who started the top of the 12th on second base, scored on a double down the right-field line by third baseman Asdrubal Cabrera. Peacock pitched a 1-2-3 bottom of the 12th, but since Fuentes started the inning on second, he advanced to third on the first out and scored on the second out. It started to appear that the teams might be there all night.
Second baseman Eduardo Escobar opened the 13th on second base and advanced to third on a deep fly to right by Locastro. He could not score when shortstop Geraldo Perdomo grounded to a drawn-in McMahon at third. But when Vogt followed with a single to left, Escobar scored and gave the Diamondbacks an 8-7 lead.
Up came Peacock. This was his game. Given the established pattern, the Diamondbacks probably were going to need to score multiple runs to secure the game. Peacock swung at the first pitch and lofted a fly to medium left. With the deep dimensions of Coors Field, left fielder Raimel Tapia had to play deeper than he would have in most places. Tapia, McMahon, and shortstop Trevor Story all converged on the ball, but none could reach it. Peacock now had his first major league hit, a single that advanced Vogt from first to third.
This brought up the last guy the Rockies wanted to face — center fielder Ketel Marte, who has swung a hot bat so far. On 0-2, he ripped a deep drive to the gap in left-center. Vogt could have crawled home. His run made it 9-7.
As soon as Marte hit the ball, Peacock turned on the jets. “The pitch before, (first base coach Robby Hammock) told me, ‘Base hit, you’re scoring.’ It was like, “Gollee, I hadn’t run this much since preschool,” Peacock chuckled. “I Forrest Gumped all around those bases. The helmet was a little big, so I’m sure that’s pretty funny.” He scored standing up to give the Diamondbacks 10-7 lead.
A Record-setting Debut for Matt Peacock
There was one loose end left to tie up — getting the final three outs. With Story starting the inning on second, Peacock got Blackmon to ground to first unassisted. One out, Story on third. Pinch hitter Yonathan Daza grounded to third, forcing Story to stay put as Cabrera made the throw. McMahon followed with a double to the gap in left-center, scoring Story, making the score 10-8. That was the first time Peacock allowed a hit all night.
But it was also the last. Peacock locked Hilliard up with a 2-2 sinker. When plate umpire Bill Welke barked out the game-ending strike call, a magical night had come to an end for Peacock. Peacock had made his major league debut in an extra-inning game, got his first hit, and got a win — something no one had done since 1945. To think that someone who, less than 12 hours earlier, was not even on the major league squad could have a night like this one is nothing short of amazing.
He’s going to tell his grandkids about this game. The fans who stayed up to watch it will, too. What a night.
Matt Peacock, Torey Lovullo, Bert Blyleven, Chris Devenski, Sam Hilliard, Yoan Lopez, Tim Locastro, Charlie Blackmon, Ryan McMahon, Elias Diaz, Josh Fuentes, Stephen Vogt, Asdrubal Cabrera, Eduardo Escobar, Geraldo Perdomo, Raimel Tapia, Trevor Story, Ketel Marte, Robby Hammock, Yonathan Daza