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Brought in with 2 strikes, rookie Curtis has a blast

New York Yankees pinch-hitter Chad Curtis hits three-run

New York Yankees pinch-hitter Chad Curtis hits three-run home run off Los Angeles Angels' Scot Shields during the seventh inning. (July 21, 2010) Photo Credit: AP

Baby-faced Yankees rookie outfielder Colin Curtis has quite a story to tell about his first major-league home run.

Curtis smacked a pinch-hit, three-run home run in the seventh inning of the Yankees' 10-6 win over the Angels Wednesday at Yankee Stadium. But it wasn't as simple as all that.

Curtis was batting because Brett Gardner had just been ejected by plate umpire Paul Emmel for arguing about a called strike (although the arguing was hard to spot and it seemed like Emmel had an ultra-quick hook).

After Gardner and manager Joe Girardi protested the ejection, Curtis was told to grab a bat and helmet. Just like in the movies: Yer in, kid!

"[I was] having a glass of Gatorade, sitting on the bench," Curtis said. "Then Gardy got thrown out. I had to grab the bat real quick and run out there."

One other problem: The count was 0-and-2. Under baseball's scoring rules, if Curtis had struck out, it would have been charged to Gardner.

Any other result, though, was Curtis' to keep. And what a result it was for the 25-year-old from Issaquah, Wash.

Curtis, a lefthanded batter who had had one plate appearance in the previous 10 days, took three straight balls from righthander Scot Shields.

Shields then threw a 91-mile-per-hour fastball and Curtis deposited it into the bleachers in right-centerfield to expand a 7-5 Yankees' lead to 10-5.

The crowd of 47,521 asked Curtis to come out for a curtain call. He was high-fiving guys on the first-base side of the dugout and had to be told to go to the other end, walk up the steps and doff his cap.

"I had no idea what to do," Curtis said, which became clear when he tentatively started up the steps without his batting helmet during the first pitch to Derek Jeter before stopping. After the pitch, Curtis continued and waved to the crowd.

"That," he said, "was the thrill of a lifetime."

The home run and its unique circumstances set into motion a chain reaction, probably starting with the question, "Who is Colin Curtis?"

Curtis is the Yankees' fourth-round pick from 2006 who has been with the big club since June 21, when the Yankees wanted an extra bat for interleague play. He had a big hit in Los Angeles against the Dodgers and has shown a penchant for pinch hitting, going 4-for-8 with six RBIs. Overall, he's 7-for-27 (.259).

Curtis is also a cancer survivor. He was diagnosed with testicular cancer as a 15-year-old and said the experience has taught him to deal with life's ups and downs.

Wednesday was a definite up. After the home run, Curtis ran into Gardner inside the tunnel by the Yankees' clubhouse.

"He said, 'You're welcome,' " Curtis said.

Then, after the game, Curtis was presented the ball by Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson. The Yankees had retrieved it from a fan who asked for something in return - autographs from Alex Rodriguez and Jeter.

That got a chuckle out of Curtis, the man of the hour.

"They guy who caught it probably doesn't know who I am," he said. Well, he probably does now.

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