Stephen Ridings has the kind of backstory that when you see him in pinstripes, firing 100-mph fastballs, making the Orioles look foolish while striking out the side in the seventh inning -- as he did in the Yankees’ 13-1 rout Tuesday night -- it sparks the universal reaction.
Wait, he’s that Stephen Ridings?
The one from the North Commack Little League? The closer for St. Anthony’s? The guy who pitched at Haverford College?
Maybe you played against him on a L.I. travel team. Maybe you sat next to him in biology class. (Ridings told Newsday’s Gregg Sarra in 2016 -- after the Cubs drafted him 254th overall -- that he planned to go back to finish his degree in chemistry before graduate school).
After Tuesday night, however, higher education can wait. Ridings suddenly looks like he could be a very helpful piece for the Yankees, sooner than anyone might have previously thought. Because of COVID-19, Ridings wasn’t able to pitch last summer as the minor leagues were shut down. Ironically enough, it was two more positive tests on the Yankees within 24 hours -- Gerrit Cole and Jordan Montgomery -- that led to Ridings abrupt promotion Tuesday from Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes/Barre.
The timing was personally significant to Ridings, as well as his whole family, for another reasons as well. Ridings said afterward that his grandmother passed away Monday -- two years after his grandfather -- so the whipsaw of emotions, with his parents in the Stadium Tuesday night, was especially strong.
"So in the midst of my family trying to figure out funeral plans, dealing with all that, getting the call today and having this moment with them was indescribable ... It was very special."
Once Ridings was summoned for the seventh, it appeared he needed a few pitches for the nerves to settle some. His first was clocked at 101 mph, but Ridings quickly fell behind 3-and-0 to DJ Stewart. The jitters didn’t last long. And those were the only three pitches (of his 16 overall) that wound up outside the strike zone. Ridings roared back with four straight fastballs to whiff Stewart -- the last was another 101-mph scorcher that he swung through -- and the newest Yankees reliever seemed right at home.
"Adrenaline is the only word I can think of," Ridings said. "My heart was racing, my mind was all over the place. It was important to just take a breath and go through the routine of getting ready."
The only (minor) glitch was a 98-mph fastball that Maikel Franco pulled through the left side of the infield for a double. Otherwise, the 25-year-old Ridings was in total command, dropping in a pair of high-80s sliders to strike out Pedro Severino and Pat Valaika.
"He is confident," Aaron Boone said. "You watch his deliveries, he’s in control of himself. It’s been a minor-league season for him where it’s a ton of strikeouts and not a lot of walks at all. So it’s been a guy that’s a strike thrower down there and you saw two really strong pitches with the fastball-breaking ball combo."
Ridings has split time between the RailRiders and Double-A Somerset this season, and Boone’s scouting report pretty much summed things up. He had a 1.24 ERA over 22 appearances, with 42 strikeouts, four walks and a 0.69 WHIP. After watching him Tuesday night, you can see where those Ks come from. Ridings threw the five highest-velocity pitches of the night, according to Statcast: 100.9, 100.2, 99.3, 98.9 and 98.7.
Not only that, Ridings got seven swings-and-misses out of 16 pitches. Yankees starter Luis Gil, his Triple-A teammate also making his MLB debut, registered 12 -- and he threw six innings (88 pitches overall). Ridings was the very definition of dominant, and the Yankees enjoyed very minute of it. Boone and many of the players on the dugout rail had incredulous smiles on their faces, whether it was the blistering fastball or the Orioles’ weak swings at the crippling off-speed pitches.
"It’s our first time seeing him in person and the stuff was impressive from the side," Boone said. "And he had a little emotion with it, a little strut out there and some things. I think we were just impressed with his demeanor."
Multiply that times 100 when you factor in Ridings trying to cope with his grandmother’s passing, and shining in the moment of a lifetime to help his grieving family. If people didn’t remember who Stephen Ridings was before Tuesday night, they do now. And that probably includes some of the Yankees, who can’t wait to see him out there throwing 100 again, like everyone else.