Scott Carroll pitched for the Chicago White Sox on Sunday.
That’s quite a story right there.
But Carroll’s performance made it a much bigger story.
Had you been one of the 5,272 souls who ventured over to Coolray Field on Apr. 19, you’d have seen Carroll on the mound for the visiting Charlotte Knights. You’d have seen a pitcher who was 3-0 and hadn’t given up a single earned run.
And you’d have seen the Gwinnett Braves pummel the International League’s Pitcher of the Week for five runs in the first inning, en route to a 9-6 win.
As Carroll trudged off the mound after his four innings of work, he couldn’t have felt any closer to realizing his dream of pitching in the major leagues.
It’s a dream Carroll’s kept for a long time. He’s 29 years old. He’d spent eight years in the minors, appearing in 138 games, starting 107.
In high school, in 2003, he was rated a better prospect than fellow Missourian Max Scherzer, the current American League Cy Young winner. But instead, Carroll accepted a scholarship to Purdue. To play quarterback.
He wound up transferring to Missouri State, where he played quarterback for two years. He also played some baseball. The Reds drafted him in the third round of the 2007 draft.
“My first spring training, I wanted to make a good impression,” Carroll wrote in February for Chicagonow.com. “During a Triple-A game, I spotted Dusty Baker, the Reds manager at the time, leaning against the backstop fence. I thought, man, this is a great opportunity to go introduce myself. I walked over to Dusty and said, ‘Hey, Skip, I’m Scott Carroll.’
“Dusty replied, with toothpick in mouth, ‘Oh, big Scott Carroll! I’ve heard about you. You out of high school, right?’ Dusty asked.
“‘No, I went to college,’ I replied.
“Dusty came right back, ‘Outfielder, right?’
“‘No, no, Dusty. I...I’m a pitcher.’
“‘Ok, ok, that’s right. Well, big Scott Carroll...good luck to you!’”
From that inauspicious beginning, Carroll embarked on an odyssey that would make Homer proud. He has pitched for Billings, Dayton, Sarasota, Carolina, Lynchburg, Carolina, Louisville, Birmingham, Charlotte, Louisville, Charlotte, Bristol, Birmingham and Charlotte.
Overall, he compiled a 27-38 record with a 3.95 ERA. Carroll also had hip surgery in 2009 and Tommy John surgery in 2012. The second surgery gave Carroll a chance to broaden his perspective.
“When I made the decision to go through with surgery and rehabilitate my elbow, I fully committed to doing everything I could to give myself a chance to pitch at the highest level,” Carroll wrote. “Because, in the end, we all just want a chance. And for that, I am thankful for the experience.”
If ever there was a team that could afford to give Carroll a chance, it’s these White Sox. Their pitching is as awful as the Braves’ is awesome. Their 5.02 team ERA is the second-worst in baseball, way off the MLB average of 3.79.
Of the 30 clubs, the White Sox rank 28th in strikeouts, 28th in saves, and 26th in batting average against. They’ve also issued more walks that any other staff.
Their best starter, Chris Sale, sits on the disabled list. Two other starters began April in the minors. Carroll replaced rookie starter Erik Johnson, who departed with a hefty 6.46 era in five starts.
So, when Carroll stepped onto the mound Sunday in Chicago, expectations were low. In addition, he was facing Tampa Bay and their ace, former Cy Young winner, David Price.
When manager Robin Ventura came out to get him with one on and one out in the eighth inning, Carroll held a 9-1 lead — and the run was unearned. He had made the longest debut for a White Sox pitcher since April, 1970. And five outs later, he’d have his first major league win.
Carroll exited to a standing ovation from the crowd of 17,313, as well as announcer Hawk Harrelson. His mother, sitting behind home plate, burst into tears. And Carroll almost did, too.
“I had to hide back some tears and fight through that, because it’s been a long road for my family and me,” he told ESPN.com. “They’ve been through all this stuff with me ever since I was a kid, taking me to games as a little leaguer.
“For me to finally achieve my dream; for my mom, she’s an angel, and she’s put in a lot of hard work, taking care of me through two surgeries. It was pretty awesome.”
“It starts with what Scotty did today coming in, and it’s special,” Ventura told the Chicago Tribune. “You have a guy that gets his first opportunity in the big leagues, and takes advantage of it. At 29, being up there, it’s special.”
Carroll even got to be interviewed on the MLB Network by his boyhood idol, John Smoltz. “I’m on cloud nine right now,” Carroll admitted. “Just to have my friends and family here to support me, and be able to experience this with me. I just couldn’t have asked for a better showing.”
A showing well worth the wait.
Denton Ashway is a contributing columnist for The Times. His columns appear Wednesdays.