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Thursday, Apr 19, 2018
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Faith in rookie Romero pays off for Rays

ST. PETERSBURG — First came the tweet.

“I could come and pitch tomorrow,” Enny Romero tweeted Friday night when he watched from his home in the Dominican Republic the first 16 innings of the Tampa Bay Rays' 18-inning marathon win against the Baltimore Orioles.

Then came the phone call at noon Saturday telling Romero he was indeed pitching for the Rays, starting Sunday's game against the Orioles.

“How about that?” Romero said.

The 22-year-old left-hander with only one start above Double-A found himself making his major-league debut during a crucial late-September game for a team clinging to the wild-card lead.

And Romero threw nearly five scoreless innings as the Rays held on to their half-game lead over the Cleveland Indians with a 3-1 victory against the Orioles in front of 28,974 at Tropicana Field.

How about that?

“It was a (heck) of a lot cooler than my debut, I know that,” reliever Jamey Wright said. “Coming in with eight games left (in the season), if we win we stay on top of the wild card. He's the reason why we stayed on top, pure and simple. He went out there and did a great job. I'm proud of him.”

The Rays turned to Romero because Jeremy Hellickson, Sunday's scheduled starter, was needed in Friday's win. So was Jake Odorizzi.

J.D. Martin, who was 16-4 with Triple-A Durham, was an option, too. He was recalled Sunday to serve as the long man if Romero faltered.

But Rays manager Joe Maddon said before the game that, after much discussion, the powers that be in the organization felt Romero was the best option, that his high-90s fastball would work well against the Orioles.

There was a little bit of history with young, hard-throwing lefties on Sept. 22. Both David Price (at Baltimore in 2008) and Matt Moore (at New York in 2011) made their first career starts on that date. Price received a no-decision in the Rays' victory. Moore struck out 11 Yankees in five scoreless innings.

“It's kind of wild the way history has repeated itself around here,” Maddon said.

Romero walked four and allowed one hit — to Manny Machado leading off the game — and was removed after 4 2/3 innings. The Rays led 1-0 at that point, thanks to a leadoff home run by David DeJesus in the first inning, and the Orioles had two runners on base after Romero issued a one-out walk and third baseman Kelly Johnson committed a two-out error.

With the top of the Orioles order coming up and with his stuff starting to “dwindle,” according to his manager, Maddon called for Brandon Gomes, and Gomes began a run of 12 straight outs recorded by the Rays' bullpen.

“Beyond not giving up runs, I like the fact that he was under control emotionally,” Maddon said. “That's what matters the most. When he shows he can breathe in the moment and he can carry his minor-league stuff to the big leagues, that's impressive.”

Romero's agent called Saturday with the good news. He also told Romero he had two hours to catch a flight to the big leagues.

Romero, who hadn't pitched since Sept. 13, said he played catch with his brother before his dad drove him to the airport.

He said he didn't arrive in town until 10 p.m. Saturday. And after the exhausting trip, Romero said he was too excited about his big-league debut to sleep.

“The first pitch I was nervous. After that I breathe, breathe and throw the ball,” Romero said. “It's the same as in the minor leagues. Here, Triple-A, Double-A, it's the same.”

Before the game, right-hander Chris Archer said everyone would be “really, really happy with what you see” from Romero.

Romero's new teammates would agree.

“The competitiveness he had to battle through those (four walks) was awesome,” right-hander Alex Cobb said. “His stuff is obviously electric. It reminds you of the other lefties we have.”

Said Gomes: “He's got a great arm, obviously, but to keep that poise and attack that great lineup is just phenomenal.”

Romero, who spent a lot of time in spring training with pitchers Fernando Rodney and Joel Peralta, said he has heard from both throughout the summer as they called to check on his progress.

He was thrilled Sunday to find his locker between those of Rodney and Peralta.

Before the game, Peralta gave Romero this bit of advice: “Have fun and throw the ball down. That's it.”

And that's what Romero did to help the Rays take another step toward a playoff berth.

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