CINCINNATI — When the Mets decided Sunday morning to call up lefthander P.J. Conlon for a spot start and his major-league debut Monday, it took three phone calls to let him know.
The first went to his cellphone. But it was 9:30 a.m. in Salt Lake City, where he was set to pitch for Triple-A Las Vegas, and Conlon was sleeping, so he didn’t answer.
The second was to his hotel room. Conlon woke up for that one, but barely, and he didn’t understand why somebody would be calling him at the crack of mid-morning. “I literally took it off the hook and put it back down,” he said.
The third came immediately thereafter. Conlon figured fine, this must be important. He answered.
It was Las Vegas manager Tony DeFrancesco. Conlon was going to The Show. The Mets needed him in Cincinnati.
“I was completely surprised,” Conlon said. “Came out of nowhere. Wide awake after that. Up and didn’t know what to do with myself.”
Conlon recalled his surprise with a big smile Monday night at Great American Ball Park, where he allowed three runs in 3 2⁄3 innings against the Reds in the Mets’ 7-6 victory. He became the 46th Ireland-born major-leaguer but the first since 1945, when Joe Cleary recorded one out for the Washington Senators, the only big-league game of his decade-plus professional career.
Born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Conlon, 24, moved to California with his family when he was 2. He is the first native of Belfast to play in the majors since Henry “Irish” McIlveen, who played from 1906-09 with Pittsburgh and the New York Highlanders.
That place in history means something to Conlon.
“It’s huge,” he said. “I’ve gotten unbelievable support, all these people reaching out to me yesterday and today. It means a lot. You could see [his family] in the stands waving Irish flags. They’re proud of it and I’m proud of it. I have a little Irish flag on my glove. It’s definitely important to me and means a lot.”
Conlon had a party of about 18 sitting in the last rows of the field level behind the Mets’ dugout. They were a raucous bunch, and Conlon said — given the tiny crowd of an announced 15,187 — he could hear them every time they cheered.
That included his first pitch, a fastball for a called strike to Jesse Winker. It included his first (and only) strikeout, of Tucker Barnhart swinging to end the second. And it included his first hit, a grounder up the middle for a single in the fourth. Officials removed all three of those baseballs from the game, souvenirs for the Conlons.
That swing, though, ruined the rest of his night. He jammed his hand — the meaty part between his thumb and index finger — and had trouble gripping the ball.
“I didn’t have any feel going out there for the fourth inning,” Conlon said. “I couldn’t really have a feel with my thumb on the bottom of the ball. It felt like I didn’t have a guide on any of my pitches. Going back and looking at it, I almost threw a couple of pitches to the backstop.”
The Reds’ three doubles and one walk were enough to end Conlon’s debut after 56 pitches. He allowed four hits and two walks in all. Three Mets relievers finished off the win.
“It’s something you dream about,” Conlon said. “The most nervous I got was when I was just sitting around here waiting, sitting in the clubhouse waiting for time to hit 6:30 for me to go out on the field. That’s when I was most nervous.
“Once I got out there and was stretching, just took in the surroundings. It was cool. It was just so fun. It was a heck of an experience.”
It also was the end of a long day for Conlon, whose flight Sunday from Salt Lake City was delayed for three hours, which caused him to miss his connection in Chicago, which forced him into a hotel for the night, which turned out to be a few hours because he had to be back at the airport at 3:30 a.m.
Conlon eventually got to his Cincinnati hotel room Monday morning and napped for a few hours — the phone didn’t ring this time — so by the time he met up with his very happy family outside the visitors’ clubhouse Monday night, he was happy to postpone sleep for a bit longer for the important things.
Family — everybody wanted their own hug, it seemed — and food.
Asked Conlon, “Are we going to eat or what?”