It was an impressive start.
Spence faced three quality hitters in Jason Heyward, Chipper Jones and Brian MacCann, and retired them in order. It was an uplifting and energising event, and Spence clearly received a lot of support from the crowd - which included a contingent of travelling Aussies, the team, and of course his Yoda backpack.
|Josh Spence's 'rookie backpack'|
Spence's exciting appearance got me thinking. Out of the other 28 Aussie major leaguers, who had great first games, and who had not so great. I thought it might be interesting to take a stroll through the history books and find out.
Turns out there are quite a few success stories - including Luke Hughes, who famously homered in his first major league at bat, and Ryan Rowland-Smith, who struck out Ken Griffey Jr. Like anything though, there are also a few shockers...
Luke Hughes has probably the most famous major league debut among Aussies. He first appeared for the Twins on 28 April 2010 against the Detroit Tigers. In his first at bat - which was a split affair courtesy of Delmon Young being caught stealing third base in the second inning - he picked up a home run off Max Scherzer in the third inning. It was a fantastic start to a career that is showing some real promise, although on the day it was not enough, the Twins lost 11-6.
Shipley is the first Australian of the modern era to crack the big leagues. While he spent the majority of his career with the Padres, Shipley debuted with their NL West rivals, the Dodgers, on 22 June 1986. The Dodgers met the Padres in front of more than 42,000 fans at Dodger Stadium, with Shipley batting eighth and playing shortstop.
Shipley picked up an RBI in his first at bat in the second inning, when he drove home Alex Trevino from third base on a fielder's choice. In the third inning he picked up his first major league hit - a single. He ended the game 1-for-4, with one RBI, and the Dodgers lost 5-4.
The remainder of the 1986 season was a bit of a struggle for Shipley - he finished up after 12 games with just three hits from 27 at bats (.111), and it wasn't really until he signed with the Padres in 1991 that he really started to hit his straps.
Travis Blackley first pitched for the Seattle Mariners on 1 July 2004 against the Texas Rangers in front of a healthy crowd of 35,000 at Safeco Field.
Blackley struck out the first hitter he faced, and retired the first eight hitters in a row. On top of this, he got plenty of run support from Mariners hitters - who put on seven runs over the first three innings. Blackley did not allow a hit until the fourth inning, when Mike Young picked up a double. After a couple of walks, Mark Teixeira then drove Young in on a fielder's choice - taking the score to 7-1 Mariners.
Travis then got through the fifth inning without trouble, but couldn't stretch it through the sixth. He retired the first two hitters, but then hits to Teixeira and Hank Blalock set the table for Kevin Mench, he left the game with a 7-4 lead in place, and took the win, with the Mariners eventually winning 8-4. It was to be Blackley's best performance, and only win, of his rookie season, and he finished 2004 with an ERA over 10.
Still Australia's most successful positional player, Dave Nilsson made his debut for the Milwaukee Brewers - with whom he spent his entire career - on 18 May 1992. While Craig Shipley had enjoyed a rousing 42,000 home crowd at Dodger Stadium, Nilsson met an away crowd of just 9680 at Tiger Stadium.
Nilsson had an impressive debut, hitting a three-run double in the eighth inning to cement the Brewers 9-1 victory. It took him almost a week to pick up his second hit, but he made it count, hitting two singles and a home run, with three RBI in a game against the Yankees.
Trent Oeltjen had a whopper of a debut for the Arizona Diamondbacks on 6 August 2009. They met the Pirates on the road, and came away with an 11-6 victory, and Trent racked up six at bats. He singled in his first major league at bat and promptly stole second base. Flash forward to the eighth inning, with the Diamondbacks trailing 6-5, and Trent led off with a home run to tie it at six a piece. On top of that, he picked up an outfield assist, throwing out Delwyn Young at second base.
The game eventually went 12 innings, with the Diamondbacks picking up five runs in the 12th to win it.
Trent kept his form hot, including going 4-for-4 on 11 August, just a homerun short of hitting the cycle. After five starts he was hitting .500, with two doubles, a triple and three home runs.
22 June 2007 against the Cincinatti Reds. He started in the bullpen, and was called on in the sixth inning. The Reds had just smacked two home runs, and plated a total of six runs, and the scoreboard was standing at 16-0. Standing at the plate awaiting the rookie was seasoned slugger, and ex-Seattle hero, Ken Griffey.
Not daunted by the occasion, Rowland-Smith went to work, and promptly struck out Griffey. He returned for the seventh inning, and allowed just one hit. He also struck out Josh Hamilton. While the game outcome was pretty deflating (a 16-1 loss), it was definitely a memorable introduction for Ryan.
Thompson faced off against the Texas Rangers on 1 September 2007, and worked very effectively. He struck out the first two hitters he faced, allowed a double to Ian Kinsler, and then retired Ramon Vazquez to end the inning.
The first Australian to play for the famous New York Yankees, Mark Hutton played his first game on 23 July 1993 at Yankee Stadium, in front of 25,000 fans. He started the game nervously, as he walked the first hitter he faced - Luis Polonia - and it continued to be a little shaky as Polonia stole second base, and then third base! Polonia went on to score on a Damion Easley sacrifice fly, but Hutton escaped the first inning allowing just the one run.
In the second inning he picked up his first major league strikeout, Chili Davis, and retired the side in order. The Yankees picked up a run in the second inning, and Hutton settled into his work with the game tied at one a piece. Hutton travelled well through the third, fourth and fifth innings, and he started the sixth inning by walking Gary DiSarcina. Di Sarcina then reached second base on a fielder's choice, before Luis Polonia singled, moving him to third. An error on a pickoff play then allowed DiSarcina to score, and after the top of the sixth, the Angels led the Yankees 2-1.
The Yankees' bats came alive in the bottom of the sixth, with Wade Boggs, Don Mattingly, Bernie Williams and Paul O'Neill all picking up hits, scoring three runs and taking a 4-2 lead. Hutton returned to the mound for the seventh and eighth innings, and got it done without any further trouble. He picked up the win, and his final line on the day was an impressive 8IP, 3H, 2R, 1ER, 5SO, 4BB.
It was easily Hutton's best outing of the year. In the remaining six games he played in 1993 he was unable to go as deep into games as he did on debut. Later in the year he also spent some time in the bullpen too. He finished the year with 22 innings pitched over seven appearances, an ERA of 5.73, 12 strikeouts and 17 walks.
Nakamura is the only Australian major leaguer to pick up a save in his first major league appearance. Debuting on 7 June 2003 pitching for the Minnesota Twins against the San Diego Padres, Nakamura struck out the first hitter he faced, and pitched a clean 1.1 innings, allowing one hit, and picking up the save, as the Twins won 6-2.Grant Balfour
Balfour made his first major league appearance on 22 July 2001 for the Twins, as they hosted the Seattle Mariners in front of more than 44,000 people at the Metrodome. Balfour relieved Kyle Lohse in the fifth inning with one out and runners at the corners. He struck out the first hitter he faced - Mike Cameron - and then escaped the inning with no damage. He returned for the sixth inning, and allowed one run, after walking Stan Javier, and giving up a single to Ichiro Suzuki. His final line for the day was 1.2 innings pitched, 1 hit, 1 run, two walks, two strikeouts. The Twins lost 6-3.
Crafty side-armer Peter Moylan began tormenting hitters on 12 April 2006, and who better to start his career against than divisional rivals the Phillies. Moylan pitched the eighth inning, when the Phillies had a 7-3 lead. His first opponent was Ryan Howard, who was fresh off a Rookie of the Year season, and who would go on to be 2006 MVP. Moylan retired him, and then allowed a double to David Bell before retiring the next two hitters. The Braves staged an eighth inning fightback, but were unable to get up, and lost 7-5, but it was a successful entry for Moylan.
a number of years of minor league success - largely as a reliever in the Padres organisation - and he made his debut courtesy of a June call up (5 June 1993). And, like Spence, Ettles struck out the first hitter he faced the Marlins outfielder Jeff Conine. He went on to have a 1-2-3 inning, and ended his major league career after 14 appearances through 1993.
Current major leaguer, Brad Thomas, began his career with the Minnesota Twins on 26 May 2001, facing off against the Oakland Athletics at the Metrodome. Thomas got through the first inning without much fanfare - he allowed two walks, but no runs or hits. He did run into trouble in the second inning though.
Thomas allowed a single to Eric Chavez, who then scored on a double from Omeldo Saenz. Thomas gave up another two walks, before a wild pitch allowed another run. A single to Jason Giambi then allowed a fourth run to cross the plate. After 1.2 innings, three hits, four walks and four runs, Thomas was done for the day. He was relieved by none other than Johan Santana, and the Twins went on to win the game 7-6 in the 10th inning courtesy of a walk-off single to Torii Hunter.
Damian Moss, big left handed reliever, made his debut with the Atlanta Braves on 26 April 2001. The Braves faced off against the Diamondbacks in Arizona, and got off to a good start, plating three runs in the first. However, Arizona hit back quickly, and took a 4-3 lead in the second. The Braves fought back again though, scoring two runs in the fifth and one in the sixth inning, to lead 6-4. Braves' starter Greg Maddux was chased out of the game in the sixth inning by the D-Backs hitters, who plated four runs, taking an 8-6 lead.
Matt Whiteside opened the eighth inning on the mound for the Braves, and promptly gave up back to back homeruns to the first two Diamondbacks hitters. He then gave up a single to Steve Finley, and walked Jay Bell before being replaced by Moss. At the plate stood Luis Gonzalez, who then slugged a three-run homerun to welcome Moss to the big leagues. Moss went on to retire the next two hitters, but the Braves lost 13-6.
John Stephens is a right hander from NSW, who played 12 games for the Baltimore Orioles in 2002. It was a somewhat rude welcome that met him when he took the mound against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays on 30 July 2002. The Devil Rays were a terrible team that year - losing 106 games, however they were on song at Tropicana Field on 30 July.
The Orioles were retired in order in the top of the first, and Stephens took the mound to face the Rays in his first appearance. By the end of that inning, he had allowed three singles, two doubles, a grand slam home run, and six earned runs. Mercifully the inning ended when Carl Crawford was caught stealing second base. Stephens gave up home runs again in the second and third inning, and left the game after three innings staring down a 9-0 deficit.
2 September 2005, the Milwaukee Brewers smashed the San Diego Padres 12-2. After the Padres' starter Brian Lawrence was hit for three runs in the first two innings, and was unable to close out the second, they called on Chris Oxspring to make his debut. Oxspring entered the game with two outs and runners on first and second. He walked the first hitter he faced - Carlos Lee - and then allowed a grand slam homerun to Geoff Jenkins, taking the score to 7-0. He allowed another home run, this time a two-run shot to Lee, in the fourth inning, and allowed another two runs in the fifth, taking the score to 11-0 to the Brewers.
Oxspring then found his groove, and retired the last six hitters he faced in order, however it was too little too late. The Padres lost 12-2, and Oxspring had the unflattering figures of 5.1 innings pitched, six hits, six runs, and three walks - although he also picked up seven strikeouts.
The first game in the big leagues can certainly be a tough one - but that's baseball. With seven Aussies already in Major League Baseball this year, we are sure to see at least a few great performances. Who will be the next Aussie to make their debut, and how will they go? We look forward to finding out...