ANAHEIM — Dillon Overton’s fan club made the long journey to watch him Saturday, and everyone made sure he noticed them as he left the mound for the last time.
When the A’s lefty exited in the sixth inning of his major league debut, he almost choked up when he looked into the Angel Stadium crowd.
“I was walking off the field, looking into the stands, seeing my family, it almost makes your eyes want to water a little bit,” Overton said. “It’s just a surreal feeling. It’s a dream come true… I’m an extremely blessed young man.”
Family, close friends … nearly 30 people total traveled from Oklahoma and Texas to watch Overton become the first A’s pitcher since 2010 to start and win his debut. He went 5 2/3 innings and overcame three home runs to get the victory as the A’s won 7-3. By the time reporters were allowed in the visitors’ clubhouse afterward, the smell from the beer shower Overton received still lingered in the room.
It was the culmination of a long journey. It was less than three years ago that Overton had Tommy John surgery, shortly after the A’s drafted him in the second round out of the University of Oklahoma. He worked hard to rehab, and he’s become a more well-rounded pitcher despite losing some of his fastball velocity post-surgery.
Five rookies have made their first career starts for the A’s this season. Overton, 24, is the first one to come away with a ‘W’.
“This kid, he’s under the knife less than (three) years ago,” catcher Stephen Vogt said. “To watch him progress the way he has, seeing him in spring training, seeing the confidence he pitched with and the composure he carries himself with, it was a lot of fun to watch him tonight.”
It was quite a start to Overton’s night.
After retiring Johnny Giavotella on a comebacker to lead off the bottom of the first, he surrendered back-to-back homers to Kole Calhoun and Mike Trout. But he didn’t get rattled. A’s manager Bob Melvin said a pitcher’s major league debut can be like “an out-of-body experience,” and he was impressed with how Overton kept things together.
“There’s a lot going on in your mind,” Melvin said. “You get the first out of the game and the next thing you know you give up two homers. And to pitch that deep into the game effecively for us, on a day we’re pretty limited in the bullpen, it speaks volumes about the character of the young man.”
Overton would give up his third homer, to Albert Pujols, in the fifth, to cut the A’s lead to 4-3.
“Pujols, you’ve got to give it to him,” the rookie said. “He hit that one a long ways. First time out there, you’ve just got to admire the distance on how far he hit it.”
That mentality seemed to serve him well. Hardly overcome by being on the big stage, Overton took it all in and seemed to relish the experience. Vogt said the biggest moment of the game came in Pujols’ previous at-bat in the third. With runners on the corners and one out, Overton struck him out looking on a fastball. “He’s such a good hitter, so smart up there,” Overton said. “I was just trying to keep the ball down and away from him. I didn’t want to put it in his wheelhouse. Obviously, he hit the one home run. It was in his wheelhouse.”
But with Coco Crisp (3-for-4, 4 runs) and Danny Valencia (3-for-4, 3 RBI) leading a strong offensive charge, three solo homers weren’t going to spoil things for Overton, who gave up seven hits, walked two and struck out three. His fastball only sits in the 87-89 mile-per-hour range, but he also throws a curve, changeup and cutter, and the changeup was particularly effective Saturday.
The large group that cheered him on included his wife Morgan, his parents Pat and Lavon, the family of his best friend from high school and friends from his parents’ church. A native of Clinton, Oklahoma, Overton said it was easy to spot his cheering section in the Angels crowd of 40,643.
“They were the only ones standing up screaming and yelling when I was walking off.”