Seattle rookie Brad Miller had just pulled into second base after connecting for the first hit of his major-league career when he felt a tap on the back.
“Congratulations,” Cubs second baseman Darwin Barney told him.
Under the bluest Seattle sky you’ll ever see, Brad Miller had found cloud nine Sunday.
First hits are the most joyous of baseball milestones. In Miller’s case, it got him a standing ovation, a keepsake souvenir — the ball he hit down the left-field line was returned to the Mariners dugout — and some nice words from the opposition.
“He’s a good kid,” said Barney, whose second-inning double had put him within a few feet of Miller at shortstop. “My first time on base I asked him, ‘Are you gonna get one today or what?’ Turns out he got a hit and another to go with it. I’m happy for him.”
So was Mariners manager Eric Wedge, who on Wednesday made no secret of his disdain for talking (and talking and talking) about his hitters’ approach and their mechanics. It’s time for them to cut to the chase, Wedge concluded. It’s time for them to hit.
Miller learned of his promotion from Tacoma the following night, and by Friday the shortstop of the future was also the shortstop for here and now. But Miller earned his ticket to the bigs with his bat, showcased Sunday during a 7-6 defeat to the Cubs.
Miller, who hits left-handed, went the other way with the first double, laced through the hole at shortstop in the fifth inning.
During his next at-bat, in the
seventh, Miller pulled the ball off Cubs starter Edwin Jackson. As center fielder Brian Bogusevic ran toward the ball in the gap, Miller sped toward second without hesitation. Although his slide into the bag beat the throw by a split-second, the key to the double was Miller sprinting out of the box.
“I like his approach up there,” said Wedge. “He’s ready and he sees the ball. And he’s out of the box, looking for a double or a triple. The way he runs, along with his attitude and approach to the game, he’s gonna hit a lot of doubles and triples.”
Aside from Seattle dropping two of three to a Chicago team unaccustomed to winning road series, Miller’s poised debut made the weekend seem, well, if not a rousing success, at least not a failure. As a defender, he’ll never be compared to the Gold Glove-caliber acrobat who is Brendan Ryan.
But Miller handled his chances and appeared comfortable both in the field and at the plate. Miller’s only rookie mistake was on the basepaths Sunday, when, after coaxing a walk in the eighth inning, he strayed maybe a half-step too far off first base. Catcher Welington Castillo fired a throw to Anthony Rizzo, who should’ve tagged Miller out but missed on the swipe.
“They made a great play,” Miller said, “but it was a great call, too. I got a little jumpy there.”
Other than having to scramble to barely beat Castillo’s welcome-to-the- bigs pickoff attempt, Miller looks no different in Safeco Field than he did in Tacoma, or in Double-A Jackson earlier this spring, or in Single-A High Desert for most of 2012.
It’s taken less than a year for Miller to ascend from Single A to the majors. That’s not an aggressive career arc. That’s meteoric.
But the former Clemson University star has played so well at every stop, he forced the Mariners’ hand.
His thoughts three games into the adventure of a lifetime?
“The guys are awesome,” he said. “They’re making me feel at home. It’s just been fun. I’m loving it.”
More profound moments should be in store for Miller than collecting a pair of doubles in a 7-6 defeat. But in terms of memories, none will duplicate the thrill of standing on a base for the first time, hearing an opponent extend best wishes with the ultimate word: