The father held his breath, hoping that his son would make it home this time.
And in the final at-bat Monday in his first big league game at the ballpark closest to his hometown, James Loney belted a three-run home run in front of about 50 friends and relatives.
The chance to play at Minute Maid Park was something Loney was denied a season ago, when he was sent to triple A one day before the Dodgers flew to Houston in April. His father Marion spent last weekend fearing that something similar would happen again.
Loney’s father, who didn’t play baseball, said he never expected his son to play on such a stage. When James was in high school, Marion thought he might be able to get a college scholarship. He didn’t think beyond that.
“I didn’t plan on it,” Marion said. “I’m still not planning on it.” So he continues to work as a software consultant.
When Monday night’s game ended, James went with his family to the Missouri City house in which he grew up. He joked with his parents and later shot baskets in the backyard with his younger brother.
“It was fun,” James said.
He was planning to spend Tuesday night at home as well, this time with catcher Russell Martin as a guest.
The last time Marion had seen his son play at Minute Maid Park was as a high school senior at Elkins High. James pitched a one-hit shutout in a regional championship game.
Marion said that when James was coming out of high school, 26 of the 30 teams were interested in him as a pitcher. The Dodgers were only one of four teams that thought he would be better suited as a position player.
“The thing about James,” Marion said, “is that he needs to play every day. I don’t think he could handle sitting five days.”
Dodgers closer Takashi Saito was unavailable for a sixth consecutive game, but played catch for five minutes with trainer Stan Conte and said he felt no pain in his right shoulder.
Saito underwent an MRI exam Monday that revealed no structural damage in the shoulder. He is planning to throw a bullpen session today.
Manager Grady Little said Saito could be available today, but the closer didn’t make any promises.
“I think I can throw, but I’m scared of how my body will react to that, so I don’t want to make any declarative statements,” Saito said.
Saito wasn’t only worried about his shoulder’s response to throwing, but also of how it would feel when the effects of a cortisone injection and anti-inflammatory medication wore off.
At last, Eric Hull got into a major league game, stepping on a big league mound for the first time Tuesday in the seventh inning and pitching two scoreless innings. He was on the Dodgers’ roster June 1-4, but didn’t pitch in the series at Pittsburgh. The 27-year-old right-hander was recalled from triple A on Monday and came close to making his debut that day, as he was asked to warm up in the ninth inning.
Randy Wolf will start tonight for class-A San Bernardino in a rehabilitation assignment. Conte said that unless Wolf feels discomfort, the decision whether to give him a second rehab start will be made by Little and pitching coach Rick Honeycutt.
Tuesday marked the one-year anniversary of the last home run given up by Jonathan Broxton, the 23-year-old Dodgers reliever who hasn’t given up a home run in 84 innings, the longest current streak in baseball.