Walking off the mound to a standing ovation from a crowd that included his parents and sister, Chris Rowley started to become aware of the magnitude of his achievement.
Rowley became the first West Point graduate to reach the major leagues, pitching one-run ball over 5 1/3 innings to win his debut Saturday and lead the Toronto Blue Jays over the Pittsburgh Pirates 7-2.
A 26-year-old right-hander, Rowley is a 2013 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy. Bypassed in the amateur draft, he signed with Toronto and went 4-0 with the Gulf Coast Blue Jays that year. A first lieutenant, Rowley missed the 2014 and 2015 minor league seasons while on active service, which included a stint in Bulgaria.
Following 30 months in the U.S. Army, he received an exception to the remainder of his service in January 2016 but remains on Individual Ready Reserve. He went 10-3 last year at Class A Dunedin, started this season 3-2 with a 1.73 ERA at Double-A New Hampshire, then was promoted to Triple-A Buffalo in mid-June and went 3-4 with a 2.82 ERA in five starts and 12 relief appearances.
Rowley (1-0) allowed five hits against the Pirates, struck out three and walked one.
“I thought he looked very confident out there,” Toronto manager John Gibbons said.
Asked whether the military background helped, Gibbons replied: “There’s no doubt. That’s just how they groom ’em. He’s been through some things.”
Pittsburgh’s only run off him came when Josh Bell hit a leadoff triple in the second and tied the score on Jordy Mercer’s two-out single.
“He kept people off balance, he moved the ball around the zone,” said Tom Prince, the Pirates’ acting manager this weekend while Clint Hurdle attended Don Baylor’s funeral.
Rowley left after Josh Harrison singled with one out in the sixth and Bell walked. The crowd of 46,179 showed its appreciation.
“Walking off and all those people standing, that was something really special for me,” Rowley said. “I don’t think anybody really expects to experience that in their life.”
One day after star outfielder Andrew McCutchen limped off with a sore left knee, the Pirates lost another outfielder when Gregory Polanco pulled up with a sore left hamstring while chasing Josh Donaldson’s bloop single in the fifth. Polanco is day to day.
“Something grabbed him and that was it,” Prince said.
.Jose Bautista walked and scored on Steve Pearce’s RBI grounder in the first. Donaldson restored Toronto’s lead with a bases-loaded walk in the second off Trevor Williams (5-5) allowed four runs — three earned — four hits and four walks in six innings.
After missing the previous two games with an illness, Kendrys Morales pinch hit for Raffy Lopez after the Blue Jays loaded the bases with one out in the fifth. Morales hit an RBI grounder to shortstop, and a second run scored when second baseman Adam Frazier’s relay throw on an attempted double play got away from Bell at first for a throwing error,
“I shot myself in the foot a few times,” Williams said. “I didn’t necessarily make it super easy on myself.”
Toronto scored three times against Joaquin Benoit in the seventh, with two runs scoring on Harrison’s throwing error at third and another on Kevin Pillar’s sacrifice fly.
Mercer homered off Leonel Campos in the ninth.
Rowley is the 12th t pitcher to start for the Blue Jays this season, one short of the team record set in 1979 and matched in 2002 and 2013.