Journeyman Gordon: Pigs to 'butterflies'

New York Yankees pitcher Brian Gordon delivers during

New York Yankees pitcher Brian Gordon delivers during the first inning of a baseball game against the Texas Rangers. (June 16, 2011) (Credit: AP)

His wife, Amanda, was in the stands. So were his parents, his kids and a couple of his childhood friends.

Brian Gordon knew this, but he couldn't bring himself to scan the crowd at Yankee Stadium. In fact, the 32-year-old journeyman couldn't bring himself to look at the fans at all as he walked out to the mound for his first major-league start.

"The butterflies were at full charge," Gordon said, "so I pulled my hat down low. I figured if my hat was down and I just saw the catcher, it would be like what I was doing a week ago in Triple-A."

A week ago, Gordon was the ace pitcher for the Triple-A Lehigh Valley IronPigs. Today, he is one of five pitchers in the Yankees' starting rotation. Joe Girardi gave him the good news after the Yankees' 3-2, 12-inning win over Texas Thursday. Girardi even said he is looking forward to seeing him hit against National League teams on the upcoming road trip.

A converted outfielder whose only other big-league experience came in three relief appearances with Texas in 2008, Gordon replaces Bartolo Colon (hamstring), who is on the disabled list. Gordon received an ovation when he left after pitching an effective 5 1/3 innings, allowing two runs, seven hits and three walks with three strikeouts.

"That was very special," he said. "I've never been a part of something like that."

And it's fair to say that until two days ago, he didn't think he ever would.

Gordon's trip to Yankee Stadium is the kind of stuff movies are made about. Since beginning his pro career in 1997, Gordon had played for 14 teams and six organizations, a fact that was noted Thursday by the Yankees, who played Johnny Cash's "I've been Everywhere" when Gordon was introduced.

In 2007, after playing four full seasons as a Triple-A outfielder, he believed his career was stagnating. So he went to his manager at Texas' Triple-A Round Rock affiliate and asked if he could pitch, something he hadn't done since high school. He ended up working with Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan, his childhood hero.

"I knew it was going to take something outrageous for me to get to the big leagues after 10 years of trying," he said.

Outrageously, a year later, he finally put on a big-league uniform, pitching four innings of relief for the Rangers.

He went back down to the minors and was pitching for the IronPigs this season when it all started coming together. Gordon was 5-0 with a 1.14 ERA. Though he was the property of the Phillies, his contract said he could opt out if any major-league team wanted him. On Tuesday night, the Yankees called, and so began what he describes as the most incredible 48 hours of his life.

Gordon was born in West Point, but he had never been to Yankee Stadium. On the day before his first start, he walked out to a park across the street from the Stadium and threw a few balls. No one recognized him, although one passerby remarked that he had a pretty good arm.

On Thursday, he arrived early and carefully laid his belongings out in a cubicle that did not yet have his nameplate. He draped his uniform over the back of a chair in front of his locker as if it were spun out of gold. And after the game, with 30 reporters standing around him, he admitted he still couldn't believe he was here.

"This is the greatest stage in baseball," Gordon said, "and I'm one of five guys starting . . . It leaves me breathless."

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