KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- It was May 12, 2006, when a 6-foot-4 left-hander from California named Cole came to a Midwest city to make his big-league debut for the Phillies.
Thirteen years to the day, it happened again.
Cole Hamels has gone on to a stellar career since that night in Cincinnati, even winning a World Series with the Phillies in 2008. There's no telling what Cole Irvin will do from here, but he certainly made a favorable first impression Sunday at Kauffman Stadium.
For seven innings of a 6-1 Mother’s Day victory -- and with about 20 friends and family, including his mother, Sandy, in attendance -- Irvin was both efficient and effective in shutting down the Royals and leading the first-place Phillies to their 10th win in 14 games.
"Man, that was fun," Irvin said. "Allowing [catcher] J.T. [Realmuto] to take me for a ride, that was fun. That was a lot of fun."
The Royals entered with the second-worst record in the American League, but they also were two nights removed from hitting three homers against Jake Arrieta. This was far from a layup, then, for Irvin, called up for a spot start when Vince Velasquez came down with soreness in his right forearm.
Irvin wasn’t overpowering, but then, he never is. A finesse lefty with a fastball that tops out at about 91 mph, he’s unafraid of putting the ball in play. His calling card in triple A was filling up the strike zone, and against the Royals, he threw first-pitch strikes to the first six batters and 22 of 27 batters overall.
If Irvin was nervous, he didn't show it. Never mind that it was pouring when he arrived at the ballpark, and with rain in the forecast throughout the day, there was some question about whether the game would start on time.
“We’ve got a thing called ‘duck weather’ up in Oregon,” said Irvin, who pitched for the University of Oregon. “I’ve pitched in the rain before. It’s not a big deal. We call what came through a ‘rogue cell.’ The rogue cell hit and it was duck weather for a little bit.”
It cleared out, though, in plenty of time. And Irvin was perfectly relaxed in the bullpen as he warmed up.
"Five minutes before the game he was just chatting it up, smiling," Realmuto said. "Didn't seem too nervous at all, which is pretty comforting from my end knowing that it's just another game for him. That's how he treated it."
Realmuto made it easy, Irvin said. After spending most of Saturday watching video of Irvin from triple A and becoming familiar with a pitcher he scarcely caught during spring training, Realmuto put together a game plan that involved mixing Irvin’s change-up and slider with his fastball. And Irvin never veered off course.
“Threw one curveball and it was really bad. I’m glad we stayed away from it,” he said. “J.T. called a great game. He really took it to heart what I wanted to do and what I like to do. Just talking to him between innings and allowing him to do what he does, it was everything you could hope for.”
Irvin got through the first inning in only nine pitches, then struck out three batters in a row after allowing a leadoff single in the second. He gave up a run in the third inning on a leadoff walk and Alex Gordon's two-out single, but allowed only two baserunners after that.
“We knew he was poised, we knew he was aggressive and confident,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “The question was how much hard contact were we going to see, and that was the part that really stood out. He got in the zone, he stayed in the zone, he induced weak contact.”
The Phillies scored all of their runs in a fifth-inning rally keyed by a Royals error, three walks, a two-run double by Realmuto and a two-run single by Odubel Herrera.
And with a five-run cushion, Irvin was able to soak everything in. As he walked to the dugout after the sixth inning, he said he acknowledged his family with a smile. He was planning on giving them his jersey and his hat as mementos.
"It was awesome," Irvin said. "This experience was ... I'm blessed to be able to be in a Phillies uniform to make this debut happen."