SACRAMENTO — His name is as good a place to start as any.
His mom screamed for “Samuel” once he jogged out to warm up on the Triple-A Sacramento mound for the first time. He gets “Sam” plenty and “Samwell,” too.
“I like Sammy just because it’s baseball,” said Sammy Long, which is an 80-grade baseball name.
The Giants’ out-of-nowhere story in spring training has graduated to the doorstep of the big leagues, needing just 15 dominant innings to blow through Double-A Richmond before he was promoted to Triple-A Sacramento — a few miles down the road from where the Fair Oaks native starred at Sacramento State.
When the lefty got the call-up from Richmond, he called his mother and told her he is “coming home,” and tears were shed. And plans were made. For his Triple-A debut Saturday, he said there were about 150-200 friends and family filling Sutter Health Park.
In one box he could spot his mom, stepmom, brothers and sisters, three grandparents, an aunt and an uncle and a couple cousins. In another box were trainers and folks from Optimum Athletes, a local gym that helped him get back into affiliated ball. There were coaches, teammates, kids whom he’s given lessons to.
He was drafted by the Rays in 2016 and spent much of his previous minor league career on the East Coast. The Sacramento crowd had mostly not seen him pitch since college. These were people who saw the “before” and now could see the “after,” Long’s trajectory from long-shot prospect to experimenting prospect to out of baseball to, suddenly, a call away from Oracle Park.
On May 22nd, Sam Long struck out seven over four innings pitched, topping out at 94. pic.twitter.com/NLtGZvSRqG
— SFGProspects (@SFGProspects) May 27, 2021
Perhaps the Giants’ most intriguing lefty option was cut loose by Tampa before the 2018 season had begun; he had pitched well in the lower levels, and the Rays were asking him to throw more sidearm. Without a team to play for, he went home and began taking EMT classes, on his way toward becoming a firefighter.
It didn’t last, though, and he wanted to give baseball another try. Optimum Athletes helped, as did more care to his diet. His fastball began ticking up. Video of a bullpen session found him a job with the White Sox in 2019, when he struck out 112 in 97 A-Ball innings with a 3.06 ERA. The pandemic hit.
For a few weeks, he couldn’t get into the gym. He went to Home Depot, bought a bunch of 2-by-4s, a couple buckets and some concrete to construct a makeshift squat rack so he could work out in the backyard of his girlfriend’s parents’ house.
“I had to improvise a little bit,” said Long, who was able to get back into the gym and kept working during a period when he did not know if his baseball career would start up again.
He was a free agent again, and the Giants called.
He grew up a Giants fan, and this spring saw Buster Posey name-dropping Long as a pitcher who had caught his eye in camp. His curveball is a knee-buckler that can start eye-level and dives. His fastball is typically in the mid-90s, though he can buzz upper-90s if he reaches back. His changeup, too, has become a weapon. The Giants started him conservatively at Double-A — after all, it represented the highest level the 25-year-old had touched — but moved him to Triple-A after four games.
Which brings this back to his homecoming, in which a boisterous Sacramento crowd watched him make a bit of unclear history: He struck out the first eight batters he faced. The Triple-A record is unknown, but Long’s eight would tie him with Jacob deGrom for the modern-day major league lead in strikeouts to start a game; Tom Seaver’s 10 in 1970 are the most straight at any point in the big-league game.
Sam Long struck out the first 8 batters he faced (tying a MLB record) in his first Triple-A start yesterday 🔥 @sammylong44
— Optimum Athletes (@AthletesOptimum) May 30, 2021
“I almost made it through the whole order,” said a smiling Long, whose streak was snapped by a single to Oakland’s Buddy Reed. “Then I made it back to the dugout, and they said that was probably the easiest one to strike out out of all of them.”
“He had a ton of people for him here even when he wasn’t pitching,” said a rehabbing Tyler Beede. “To hear the crowd and see how dominant he was … it was perfect.”
The natural next question is how he fits into the Giants’ plans, and the club does not yet know. In his five minor league outings, he has thrown between 55-63 pitches, the Giants leaving the door open concerning stretching him out as a starter or, if they need him sooner, having his live arm available out of the bullpen, perhaps in a bulk role.
Until the Giants know the need, Long said this week, he would stay in that 60-pitch-ish area — although with Aaron Sanchez and Logan Webb on the IL, perhaps the need is now clearer.
Forgive Long if the exact capacity he would be called up for is not the most crucial thing in his life. He is pitching — dominantly — in front of family at the highest level he has seen.
“To see the work that I put in that year  and the years before that and how this year is going so far — I feel lucky, but it’s also, like, I deserve this,” Long said.
And what if the Giants deem he deserves to be placed one step higher?
That call with his mom “is gonna be waterfalls,” he said.