It’s been a terrific couple weeks for Garden Staters in the major leagues with the feel good story about Kean University grad Kevin Herget turning our heads even quicker than the dominant performances of Zac Gallen and Mike Trout.
Gallen, a Bishop Eustace grad, was in the middle of a long scoreless string and Trout, Millville’s favorite son, hit home runs in seven consecutive games.
But the bigger news was Herget, called up twice by Tampa Bay in the last week or so. The righthander out of Park Ridge High finally got his first MLB action in the second game of a doubleheader against Toronto last night after nine, yes nine, seasons in the minor leagues. Talk about tugging the heartstrings.
The Tampa Bay announcers, in fact, took a direct hit to the heart and were gushing watching the 31 year-old Herget retire the first two batters he faced to get the Rays out of the eighth inning.
Herget’s rise through the Cardinals’ organization — he was drafted by St. Louis in the 39th round of the 2013 Draft — was slow but steady and only interrupted by injury. Herget reached Triple-A with the Cards but stalled there, subsequently landing with Cleveland and then Tampa.
Herget pitched well in 1.2 innings of relief bracketing the eighth and ninth innings during a 7-2 loss to the Blue Jays on Tuesday. He entered the game after George Springer’s two-run HR gave Toronto a 5-2 lead with one out in the eighth. Herget deftly retired Vlady Guerrero, Jr. and Bo Bichette on consecutive foul pops to end the inning.
The recent Kean Baseball Hall of Fame inductee then had a bit of a battle in the ninth courtesy of Alejandro Kirk’s leadoff infield single and Teoscar Hernandez’s RBI double. Matt Chapman would bring Hernandez home later with a sac fly. But only one of the five batters Herget faced hit a ball hard and that was Hernandez with the double.
Herget’s college coach, Neil Ioviero, shared a text he shared with his former player after his first MLB appearance. “Thatta’ boy! I know you’re humble. I know you’re reserved and you’re all class. But make sure you enjoy this moment. You gave your blood, sweat and tears for this. So proud. Love you, man.”
Herget alternated between the bullpen and a starting role during an incredible 259-game minor league career in which he boasts a 54-26 record and a 3.41 ERA. He also saved 34 minor league games. His strikeout-to-walk ratio (648-163) of 3.98 is impressive. You can understand the Rays interest in Herget, who fits into the diverse and flexible role they like for their “young” pitchers.
Herget’s ascension to ‘The Show’ is truly remarkable and will be more rare to see in the future, considering MLB has reduced its draft to 20 rounds. Herget, remember, was taken in the 39th round.
“The amount of perseverance it took to get to this point is undeniable,” said Ioviero. “It’s the ultimate story of going through every trial and tribulation and never quitting or losing sight of his dream. He is the most humble person you’ve ever been around but, at the same time, he is competitive beyond belief. This couldn’t happen to a better person.”
Oh yea, Gallen and Trout. Remember them?
Gallen, also drafted by the Cardinals but in the third round in 2016, is having a terrific season with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Gallen retired the first nine batters in Arizona’s 12-6 victory over Colorado on Monday to extend his scoreless streak to 44.1 innings. That’s an Arizona franchise record. The scoreless innings streak ended there but Gallen still put forth a heck of a performance, permitting three earned runs on four hits over six innings, striking out 11 and walking none.
Of course, the MLB consecutive scoreless innings record belongs to another New Jersey native, 1976 Cherry Hill East grad Orel Hershiser. The righthander blanked Dodgers opponents in 1988 over an amazing 59 consecutive innings. Yes, New Jersey has the goods in the baseball department store.
Gallen is 12-2 with a 2.50 ERA this season and has struck out 163 and walked a paltry 40 in 158.2 innings over 27 starts. He’s placed himself firmly in the NL Cy Young discussion.
Trout, South Jersey’s Mickey Mantle, just keeps producing at ridiculous levels, even through the various injuries that have derailed him at times during his already 11-plus major league seasons. Trout had hit a home run in seven consecutive games before going 0-for-3 with a walk in a 3-1 loss to Cleveland last night.
Of course, Trout’s teammate and fellow New Jersey native Matt Thaiss of Jackson went deep in lieu of Trout’s chase of a major league record. Ken Griffey, Jr. (1993), Don Mattingly (‘87) and Dale Long (‘56) still hold the MLB record of eight straight games with a home run.
Trout, by the way, entered Tuesday night’s game with a remarkable 35 home runs in 100 games this season. He’s missed almost 40 games due to injury. Trout played for NJ Super 17 out of Diamond Nation as a rising senior at Millville.
Herget, Gallen and Trout. Just doing their Jersey thing.