Carson Smith had just finished a workout with the Seattle Mariners’ minor league camp last week, days after being optioned to Triple-A Tacoma, when he was summoned to the manager’s office.
And, sub- sequently, to the big leagues.
“It was a shock, for sure,” the powerful right-handed reliever said Monday, after the Mariners beat the Los Angeles Angels, 4-1, in their season opener at Safeco Field. “It was less than 24 hours from departure, so I wasn’t too sure what was going on; walked in there, and it was surprising — but great — news.”
So there he was on Monday, thrust immediately into significant action when manager Lloyd McClendon inserted Smith into the game in the top of the eighth inning with the Mariners trying to protect a three-run lead.
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The Angels had runners on first and second with two outs and the best player in the major leagues, reigning American League MVP Mike Trout, in the batter’s box.
Smith had faced Trout before, during one of his nine big-league appearances last season as a September call-up. The rookie got the better of that exchange, striking out Trout for the final out of the eighth inning on Sept. 26 in a game the Mariners eventually won, 4-3.
Monday’s meeting produced a similar result. Smith threw four pitches to Trout — two called strikes, a ball that missed just low, and a swinging strike three to end the inning and preserve the lead.
Smith hopped off the mound and smacked his glove in excitement.
“That’s probably a first for me,” he said. “Not sure I need to do that ever again.”
It was the third strikeout of the day for Trout, who also bashed a solo home run to center field off Mariners starter Felix Hernandez in the first inning.
“I’m not going to say I have his number, by any means,” Smith said. “I’m just going out there trying to pound the zone, and if the results play in my favor, that’s good for me.”
Said McClendon: “This guy is funky, and it’s hard to see. He has an angle that most right-handed power hitters just don’t see.”
It’s been a wild eight days for Smith, who was optioned to Tacoma on March 29 and figured to begin the season there. But on Friday, the Mariners instead decided to option right-hander Dominic Leone to Triple A, and recalled a pleasantly surprised Smith to replace Leone in the Mariners’ bullpen.
“It was a crazy moment,” said Smith, who struck out 10 batters in 81/3 innings last season, “and I’m just happy to be here and be a part of the team.”