Sammy Long grew up in Fair Oaks and stayed nearby, first at Del Campo High School and then Sacramento State. He idolized the Giants, who still feature a few of those idols.
Buster Posey is around. As is Brandon Crawford, who was his shortstop. Brandon Belt, too, who was his first baseman.
So yeah, it’s a figure of speech. But Long also might have been talking literally.
“Everything that I’ve dreamed of right there,” Long said after his sparkling debut, four innings of one-run ball — a baserunner he put on scored after he left — with seven strikeouts on just one hit and a walk.
Until the end of a 4-3 loss to the Rangers in 11 innings, it sure seemed as if this were just a Long fantasy come to life.
It started immediately, when Posey, who was getting a day off with Chadwick Tromp starting, helped out and caught his warmup pitches.
“That’s when it kind of sunk in,” the 25-year-old said. “It’s like, I’m on these guys’ team and they believe in me to help them win.”
The Giants had called the lefty up with an eye on Wednesday, but he was around Tuesday in Texas, where Posey talked with him about his own debut. He said there is a reason that Long is here, and they’re playing the same game he was in the minors.
In Double- and Triple-A, Long struck out 37 in 22 2/3 innings. The reason became clear immediately.
Long was utterly dominant after Zack Littell took down the first inning. The first-year member of the organization took a combined no-hitter into the sixth and at one point struck out five straight Rangers. His fastball touched 95 mph, locating it well on the bottom of the zone, his changeup had a lot of downward movement and his curveball was often unhittable. He induced six whiffs on the pitch, including on three of his seven strikeouts, the ball starting eye-level and then breaking either into the zone or under it.
Sammy Long, Beautiful 77mph Curveball. 🌈 pic.twitter.com/CLSCLFTLZc
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) June 9, 2021
When Gabe Kapler went to the mound in the sixth after Long surrendered his first and only hit, a double to Eli White, he told Long to take a second and look around. He had about 30 friends and family who made the trip to Globe Life Field. He accepted congrats from the infielders and looked around the park as he made the walk from mound to dugout.
“That was a really special moment for my career, and it’s awesome to be able to fist-bump all those guys I looked up to growing up,” Long said. “It just felt like a dream.”
His road to this moment was marked by some nightmares. He was cut by the Rays before the 2018 season, during which he went home and took EMT classes, ready to move on from baseball.
Until he wasn’t. He started working out again and remade his body with a bigger focus on his diet. He returned to pro ball in 2019, spent in A-Ball with the White Sox, then continued working out through the pandemic in 2020.
“I think the day I decided to give it another shot was the day I started believing,” Long said over Zoom.
The Giants have believed since they saw him in spring training for the first time, with a fastball that was playing up from his time in Chicago. They believed, too, when he struck out five of the first six batters he faced at the major league level.
The next step for pitcher and club will be to decide how to use him in the coming weeks and months. He had not been fully stretched out in the minors, throwing about 60 pitches each outing, and he tossed 69 Wednesday.
He was the bulk-inning pitcher with both Aaron Sanchez and Logan Webb out of the rotation and not due back at least for a few weeks. Scott Kazmir and Nick Tropeano are no longer around for depth.
“I don’t see why he couldn’t give us 75-80 pitches, maybe more,” Kapler said after Tyler Rogers let up a soft run in the ninth and Jake McGee a ghost-runner-enabled run in the 11th, the club’s offense failing it late. “Today I think he demonstrated that he can maintain his stuff deeper into a pitch count. I don’t see any reason why, if it makes sense strategically, we wouldn’t have him on the table to start a baseball game for us.”
Whatever the Giants want, Long will do. He said starting a game would be “awesome.”
He came out of Texas with a hat, jersey and the ball from his first strikeout. All will remind him that it’s not a dream; that he’s wide awake.