Isotopes starter Stephen Fife made his Major League debut with the Dodgers on July 17 against Roy Halladay and the Philadelphia Phillies. His itinerary looked something like this:
10:00 AM: Catch flight from Albuquerque to Los Angeles
12:00 PM: Land in Los Angeles, arrive at Dodger Stadium
7:10 PM: Dodgers vs Phillies
9:00 PM: Leave game after 6.0 innings, allowing only one run on four hits
Give or take.
Somewhere in that 11-hour span Fife experienced what every athlete goes through in his Major League debut; the excitement, the nerves, the mental preparation and finally the reflection. In front of a sellout crowd at Dodger Stadium, 53,498, the right-hander delivered a shutdown performance that was highlighted by holding the Phillies' quartet of All-Star players Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Carlos Ruiz to a combined 1-for-11.
Just another day at the office.
"It was just so much more (than expected), it's hard to even put into words everything that was happening," said Fife. "It was just really cool to get there and realize your dream."
So how does a pitcher, who is in his first year above Double-A, even go about preparing for the likes of Rollins and company? There's no practice to simulate an MLB All-Star swing. Plus, no matter how Fife would prepare, once he gets on the diamond it's just him, the All-Star batter and 50,000 of Fife's biggest fans.
"The first thing I walk in and they put the lineup in my chair and it's those guys I'm about to face," said Fife. "(Dodgers Pitching Coach Rick) Honeycutt and (Catcher A.J.) Ellis came in and we went over the shooting match; looked at videos of the Phillies, some hot and cold zones, how to get guys out."
Fife said pre-game was the most relaxing part of his debut. He went about his typical routine, headphones in, mentally preparing for the game while also fielding "congratulations" from Dodgers players. The biggest challenge, he said, was not becoming overwhelmed with the talent in the opposing locker room. Outside of that aspect, it was business as usual for the starter.
"I just took it as a challenge to not be overwhelmed by who I was facing across the field," said Fife. "I tried to not get too uncomfortable with that and just follow what I do before every game. I just have that routine and it kind of settles me in and lets me work."
Once Fife took the field for his warm-up bullpen session, the pre-game nerves and jitters became a thing of the past. Sitting in the dugout he remembered the advice of a friend back here in Albuquerque; that once Fife arrived, he should stop and take a second to just look around.
After all, Fife will only get one Major League debut.
"I got to the top step of the dugout and it was a huge rush of emotion," said Fife. "I finished my eight warm-up pitches and got the ball, like he (his friend) said, and just took it all in for a second. Then, I went after it and I guess the rest is history."
Fife then took the mound for the first time as a Los Angeles Dodger. In his preparation for the Phillies, he was told that many veteran hitters will likely give a pitcher the first strike, especially if they're unfamiliar with the hurler. With that in mind, Fife aggressively attacked Philadelphia batters to put them in uncomfortable counts and work ahead of the opposition. His strategy ultimately paid off as the righty struck out one and allowed just three walks through his 6.0 innings of work.
And swears he never became intimidated by the batter at the plate.
"My thoughts didn't really go to 'Oh boy, this is Ryan Howard,'" said Fife. "It was more of 'OK, this is who he is and this is what I can probably do to get him out.'"
Which is easy to say after the fact.
Even better, Fife said only a few of his pitches were working properly, meaning the 25-year-old kept a slugger-laden team to only one run while tossing two types of pitches. A performance, he admitted, that went "well enough."
"For the most part I battled well, but I didn't really execute to a 'T,'" said Fife. "I didn't have my changeup for some reason so I just tried to battle and give us a chance."
So what would have happened if he brought his entire arsenal of pitches? A shutout? A no-hitter? Perfect game?
"Baseball is such a funny game; I could have spotted up 90 percent of my pitches and maybe given up 10 hits and six runs," said Fife. "You just never know how it's going to go."
But we do know how it DID go. And following the completion of the game, Fife was called into Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly's office for the post-game analysis. The starter said he was informed that the call-up was only for the one, spot-start, and despite the fact he delivered a "fantastic effort," he was going to be sent back down to Triple-A Albuquerque. Mattingly also pointed out a few flaws in the right-hander's performance, some fastballs that didn't stay away from the hitter, a few "lucky" misses Fife made, but ultimately ended the conference on a high-note.
"They were very complimentary and congratulatory," said Fife. "They kind of said we look forward to seeing you back here."
Reflecting on his experience, Fife is simply grateful to have his first taste of pitching in the Majors. He said now that he has a proven track record of success at the MLB level, the next step is waiting for the right opportunity to receive the next call-up.
"I now know that I can pitch there and I can have a sub-par execution game and still get by in the big leagues," said Fife. "I feel like I've got more stuff than I showed in that game, but now I just wait for another opportunity to get back and pitch again."
Back to the itinerary:
9:01 PM: Phillies in disbelief they were shut down by a rookie.