First Irish-born major league player since 1945 notches first hit while pitching 3-2/3 innings against the Cincinnati Reds.
When Belfast-born P.J. Conlon took the mound for the New York Mets against the Cincinnati Reds for his first major league start on Monday night, he wore number 60. Sixteen pitches and three harmless pop flies to the outfield later, he was out of the first inning.
Then something extraordinary happened. SNY, the New York Mets television network, took a shot of all the Conlon family members who had come out to root on the young Mets lefthander, and there was a spontaneous eruption—two Irish tri-colours were unveiled in honor of the young Mets pitcher who became the first Irish-born major league player from Ireland since Joe Cleary of the 1945 Washington Senators. You could almost hear the cheers from the Falls Road in Belfast.
Read more: 5 things you should know about P.J. Conlon
In the second inning, Conlon got through the order in only 12 pitches. His fastball ranged between 85-88 MPH and he consistently threw inside to hitters. Mets color man and former All-Star first baseman Keith Hernandez was impressed with his “deceptive motion.” Conlon got his first major league strikeout when he fanned catcher Tucker Barnhart to close out the second inning.
Going into the third inning Conlon was staked to a 5-run lead. He got the first hitter out but was tagged for his first hit of the night and the first homerun of his career when Reds speedsters Billy Hamilton took him into the leftfield seats. Conlon made a swift recovery and got the next hitter on a line-drive to shortstop Armed Rosario, who made a nice leaping catch.
Leading off the top of the fourth Conlon got his first major league hit on a drive to leftfield and moments later scored on a sacrifice fly, netting the first run of his career and giving the Mets a 6-1 lead.
The bottom of the inning signaled the end of Conlon’s major league fairy tale. He got the first out, but three back-to-back-to-back doubles brought in two runs. In the stands, SNY showed another extraordinary Irish moment: it was a shot of an older woman in the Conlon contingent—perhaps a grandmother or an aunt—holding a saint’s holy picture, then kissing it and pleading to the saint (perhaps Padre Pio, the Italian saint of the stigmata) for divine intervention. But it was not to be as Mets manager Mickey Callaway decided that Conlon had done enough. His line for the night was not bad for a major league first outing: 3-2/3 innings, 4 hits, 2 walks, 1 strikeout and three earned runs.
Conlon helped snap a Mets six-game losing streak with the 7-6 win.
“It’s huge,” Conlon told Kristie Ackert of the New York Daily News after the game.
“I’ve gotten unbelievable support. All these people reaching out to me yesterday and today. It means a lot. You can see them in the stands waving the Irish flag. They are proud of it, I am proud of it. Irish flag on my glove. Definitely important to me. Everything about this was awesome. It’s something you dream about.”
Conlon also revealed he hurt his thumb on his first major league hit. “I went back on the mound and I didn’t really have feeling on that thumb,” Conlon told the New York Times. “I didn’t have a guide on any of my pitches.”
But all-in-all it was a successful night. Conlon put it all in perspective. “This,” Conlon told Mike Vaccaro of the New York Post, “was so cool.”
The ghost of Joe Cleary of the Washington Senators can rest well this evening. His spot as an Irish-born major leaguer has been taken by a young Belfast kid named Conlon who looks like he’ll be around for a lot longer than the one game Cleary appeared in in 1945.
* Dermot McEvoy is the author of the The 13th Apostle: A Novel of Michael Collins and the Irish Uprising and Our Lady of Greenwich Village, both now available in paperback, Kindle and Audio from Skyhorse Publishing. He may be reached at email@example.com. Follow him at www.dermotmcevoy.com. Follow The 13th Apostle on Facebook at www.facebook.com/13thApostleMcEvoy.