It was nearly cinematic in nature – Jameson Taillon, the hard-luck pitcher who most recently missed more than a season recovering from Tommy John surgery and was 707 games removed from his last start, took the mound despite the longest of odds, and proved to everyone, himself included, that he was right to keep going when it seemed like his career was over.
He was masterful despite two mistakes – the long, hard road very quickly proven worth it. He exhibited a new pitch mix, new mechanics, and the steadfast belief that someone can come back from two Tommy John surgeries. And testicular cancer. And a sports hernia. And of maybe not living up to the expectations they had for their career.
That was the first, heartwarming part of the film Wednesday night. The second part – the one that started when Taillon left the game – well, the less said about it the better.
The Yankees managed13 hits but only three runs as they fell to the Orioles, 4-3, in 11 innings. It’s the first time in 13 tries that the Orioles have won at Yankee Stadium.
Both teams scored in the 10th inning – the Orioles, on Gleyber Torres’ throwing error – but the Orioles were able to cash in in the 11th, on Chance Sisco’s pinch hit, RBI single. The Yankees had a chance to even it up with Gio Urshela on third base with one out, but he was gunned down at home trying to score on DJ LeMahieu’s lineout.
None of that erased what Taillon accomplished.
"I’m extremely grateful," he said. "This is going to sound cheesy, but I’ll never take a day in a big-league uniform for granted, that’s for sure."
He knows that he isn’t going to be the pitcher that he envisioned when he was drafted second overall in 2010: 20-win seasons, playing for 15 straight years, finishing with a 100 career WAR. He’s 29 now, signed by the Yankees as a reclamation project, but he can still make the best of whatever’s left.
And he’s off to a fantastic start.
He pitched 4 2/3 innings, allowed two solo home runs, but only three hits overall. He walked none, struck out seven, seemed consistently in control, and handed over the ball after he reached his pitch count. He ended up throwing 74 pitches, 47 for strikes.
"I thought he threw the ball really well," manager Aaron Boone said. "This day was a long day coming for him. I’m sure there were all kinds of emotions being out on that mound again and just happy for him – another step and another really solid performance for us."
Taillon’s sole mistakes came in the fourth, on Cedric Mullins’ homer off an 85-mph changeup and Anthony Santander’s home run to right-center, both solo shots.
But he’s OK with that price of admission.
"I wasn’t so sure, a couple years ago, that I would ever be on this stage again," he said leading up to the start. "There will never be anything like my debut. There will never be another moment like coming back from cancer. But this is up there with all those. It’s very different, but it’s extremely exciting."
And though he left the game with a one-run deficit, there was nothing but cheers from the crowd as he walked to the dugout. High-fives greeted him there, along with a big grin from his good friend and once-Pirates teammate Gerrit Cole.
Taillon said he had plenty of low points that led him to this one high. The months leading up to his second Tommy John were the hardest, he said.
The rehab wasn’t working. His arm didn’t feel right. His future was shrouded in a darkness.
Eventually, he decided he wasn’t going to let circumstance decide his future. He went to the Florida Baseball Ranch, known for rehabbing pitchers. He shortened his arm swing. He relied more on his legs. He protected that arm.
His reward came Wednesday, when neither nerves nor rust could touch him.
"It’s kind of felt like one big, multiyear build up," he said. "Really, more than anything, it’s just positive emotion. I’m really grateful to have a second chance at this."