Paul DeJong

How Paul DeJong homered in his first major league at-bat

When the first inning of Paul DeJong’s major league debut rolled around, the 23-year-old shortstop wasn’t even in the stadium.

The Cardinals called DeJong up from Triple-A Memphis earlier that day to fill the roster spot vacated by Kolten Wong, who was placed on the disabled list with elbow discomfort. DeJong had been playing second base, shortstop, and third base for Memphis while batting .294.

“A kid who no matter where you put him, he’s quick to make adjustments,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. “He’s done a great job at shortstop. He’s ready to jump in. It just seems like he’s ready.”[1]

DeJong’s flight from Memphis was delayed by weather and he had to switch airlines, delaying his arrival at Coors Field until the middle innings. The Cardinals gave DeJong a No. 11 jersey, making him the first St. Louis player to wear the double ones since Jose Oquendo.[2]

The Cardinals entered their May 28, 2017, game against the Rockies with a 24-22 record, half a game behind the Brewers in the National League Central. The Rockies, meanwhile, were off to a 32-19 start and led the competitive National League West by a game.

Rookie right-hander German Marquez took the mound for the Rockies and looked sharp early, throwing five scoreless innings to start the game.

Lance Lynn took the hill for the Cardinals and pitched with the exception of a crucial fourth inning. Down 1-0, Lynn walked Nolan Arenado and allowed a single to Mark Reynolds. On his second pitch to Gerardo Parra, the Rockies right fielder launched a three run home run down the right-field line to give Colorado a 4-0 lead.

“The pitch to Parra didn’t move as much as I would like,” Lynn said. “It spun a little bit on me and he put a good swing on it.”[3]

The Cardinals rallied with solo home runs from Jedd Gyorko and Greg Garcia in the fourth inning. Tommy Pham homered to center in the seventh to cut the Rockies’ lead to 4-3.

After two innings of scoreless relief from Tyler Lyons, the Cardinals turned to Matt Bowman in the eighth, but a couple of ground balls turned costly for the young reliever. DJ LeMahieu led off the inning with a single to left and advanced to second on a wild pitch. Arenado hit a ground ball to Aledmys Diaz at shortstop, but Diaz unsuccessfully attempted to throw LeMahieu out at third.

Reynolds singled to right to drive in a run before Parra hit a ground ball to Diaz. Again, the Cardinals’ shortstop attempted to throw out a runner at third. Once again, it didn’t work. With the inning extended, Carlos Gonzalez hit a sacrifice fly to left field and Tony Wolters added a two-run single to give the Rockies an 8-3 lead heading into the ninth.

“One of those situations where we gave extra outs and extra outs added up to runs,” Matheny said.[4]

With Greg Holland on the mound, the Cardinals called on DeJong to bat for relief pitcher John Brebbia, who also was making his major-league debut. After taking the first pitch for a ball, DeJong hit a high, arcing home run over the left-field wall.

“It’s pretty incredible and hard to even put into words,” said DeJong, who was then interrupted by Cardinals traveling secretary C.J. Cherre, who handed him a white box with the date and location printed on it. When Cherre told him it was for his parents, DeJong opened it. Inside sat the home run ball.[5]

“I tried to treat it like any other at-bat,” DeJong said. “I kept watching it where it would go, and it kept going. I didn’t know if it was too high. Big-league baseball. Big-league stadium. Colorado. Balls flying all day. I guess I just got it up there.”

Holland retired the next three batters he faced to finish the game.

Afterwards, Matheny spoke about the Cardinals’ recent roster moves, which included the additions of Lyons, Brebbia, and DeJong.

“The moves are, yeah, let’s go get some guys who we think can jump in here and contribute and, look, in the first at-bat (DeJong) did,” Matheny said. “He’s going to get an opportunity. I still feel like we have some depth, but I don’t think this is a case of, ‘Let’s go get a bunch of new guys and bring them in here.’ Situations have presented themselves that we had to act on.”[6]

“Wherever they want to use me, however, I’ll be ready,” DeJong said.[7]

He would indeed. DeJong not only wrested the starting shortstop position from Diaz, but finished second in the National League Rookie of the Year vote behind the Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger. In 108 games, DeJong hit .285 with 25 homers, 65 RBIs, and an .857 OPS.

“Twenty-five home runs at 24 years old – and then you add 13 to it (from the minors),” Matheny said. “That’s rare air for a seasoned veteran, right?”[8]

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[1] Derrick Goold, “Cardinals put Wong on disabled list,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 29, 2017.

[2] Derrick Goold, “Cardinals put Wong on disabled list,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 29, 2017.

[3] The Associated Press, “Rockies stay steady, take series from Cards,” Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, May 29, 2017.

[4] Derrick Goold, “Jolt comes a little late,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 29, 2017.

[5] Derrick Goold, “Jolt comes a little late,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 29, 2017.

[6] Derrick Goold, “Jolt comes a little late,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 29, 2017.

[7] Derrick Goold, “Cardinals put Wong on disabled list,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 29, 2017.

[8] Benjamin Hochman, “DeJong is rare weapon at shortstop,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 9, 2017.

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