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Former Edison standout Henry Owens makes MLB debut for Red Sox
NEW YORK – No one could blame Henry Owens if he was haunted by the ghosts of rivalries past as he lay in bed Monday night into Tuesday morning.
But once his first pitch, a 92 mph fastball, landed in Blake Swihart’s glove Tuesday night, there were real challenges ahead for the Huntington Beach native: the first-place New York Yankees. Good thing too; ghosts make lousy infielders.
The 23-year-old left-hander from Edison High became the eighth Red Sox pitcher to make his major league debut against the Yankees dating to 1914. Owens is the first to do it on the road since 1997. And in what could be his big league audition with starter Rick Porcello out because of a sore triceps, Owens was solid, if unspectacular, allowing three runs in five-plus innings.
That the Red Sox lost, 13-3, was hardly the headline, with Boston waving to the Yankees from the division cellar. This was about Owens getting a chance in The Show at Yankee Stadium against one of the best hitting teams in baseball, and one that also happens to be in the midst of a pennant race.
“I looked around while I was warming up and kind of ‘here I am’ so I tried to embrace and have fun at the same time,” Owens said, insisting he wasn’t nervous.
“I was anxious to be out here,” Owens said, adding a sizable contingent of his family and friends had made the trip from “H.B.”
“Very excited and very pleased with the opportunity and I tried to seize it the best I could,” he said. “Ran into a couple tough innings, but hopefully there’s more to come.”
A late-arriving, mostly bored Yankee Stadium crowd was hardly the sort of intimidating pressure cooker one might expect in a Broadway debut. No raucous crowd, roiling with venom over the hated Sox in town. This was a first-place team annoyed that its pesky little brother wouldn’t leave it alone.
“I wasn’t really telling myself ‘I’m pitching in my debut,’ I was trying to tell myself I’m pitching against New York in New York and try to slow down their hot bats.”
Owens, 6-foot-6 and lanky, mowed down Jacoby Ellsbury to open the game, getting the former All-Star swinging. (Coincidently, Owens won the Cal-Hi Sports Mr. Baseball State Player of the Year Award in 2011, the same year Ellsbury was an All-Star.) But after an infield single to Chris Young and a walk to Alex Rodriguez, Owens gave up an RBI single to Mark Teixeira on a smash up the middle.
Pitching coach Carl Willis made the rare first-inning trip to the mound, trying to calm the nerves of his rookie starter.
“What was impressive was that he seemed to keep the emotion of the moment under control and made some quality pitches,” Manager John Ferrell said.
Owens promptly retired the next two batters with relative alacrity, and appeared to settle in after slogging through the first inning with a pitch count already above 30.
“I felt like they were off-balance for the most part,” Owens said. “A few of their hits weren’t necessarily hard contact.”
After shaking off the rust in the first, Owens began to look like the guy leading qualifying Triple-A pitchers in batting average against (.193). Never knuckling under, he fired pitch after pitch, refusing to show on his face the anguish caused by his initial lack of command.
“He should take away from this a solid feeling that he’s going up against an explosive lineup and he kept them in check for his first time out,” Ferrell said.
But just when it appeared Owens had found a groove the young pitcher’s night came to an abrupt end. In the top of the sixth with a man on and no outs, Owens left his signature changeup up in the zone and Rodriguez launched a double to the center-field wall. It’s a mistake that may not have cost him in Triple-A, but in the bigs, against this group of hitters, those hangers turn into bangers for the other team.
Ferrell removed Owens in favor of left-handed reliever Robbie Ross, who gave up back-to-back hits, charging a pair of runs to Owens. From there, the floodgates opened and the oncoming wave of Yankees runs demolished the Red Sox bullpen.
Reviews are everything in New York. Owens, poised and proficient, showed he’s worthy of the big stage and its requisite bright lights.