Steve Blass walked into the Pirates clubhouse on Sunday morning, made a quick right turn and found Nick Kingham sitting in front of his locker. Blass, the Pittsburgh pitcher turned broadcaster, shook Kingham's hand and gave the 26-year-old some advice a few hours before his Major League debut.
"Be yourself," Blass said.
Kingham carried a perfect game into the seventh inning before Paul DeJong's two-out single ended his bid for history. Still, Kingham could not have dreamed up a much better debut. The right-hander retired the first 20 batters he faced -- an expansion-era record for a pitcher making his debut, according to the Elias Sports Bureau -- and struck out nine over seven scoreless innings. Kingham's first big league win was also the Pirates' fifth straight, as they completed a sweep of the Cardinals with a 5-0 victory at PNC Park.
Kingham's path to this point was not what he envisioned when the Pirates drafted him out of Sierra Vista High School in Las Vegas eight years ago, but he accepted it as part of his identity.
"It made me who I am today," Kingham said Saturday.
On the cusp of reaching the Majors in 2015, Kingham was instead set back by Tommy John surgery. He returned to Triple-A last season and went back this spring when he didn't crack Pittsburgh's rotation.
After he was sent out of big league Spring Training, Kingham went to work in Minor League camp. There, he focused on treating every at-bat as if it were Major League-level competition and introduced the slider that baffled Cardinals hitters all Sunday afternoon.
Historic @MLB debut for @Pirates No. 12 prospect Nick Kingham today. No pitcher has ever matched these numbers in his first #MLB game (going back to 1908 via @baseball_ref):— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) 29 de abril de 2018
≥ 7 IP
= 0 R
≤ 1 H
= 0 BB
≥ 9 K
More: https://t.co/ibw9ARo1UF pic.twitter.com/DCORJr4VRy
Kingham faced 22 hitters and got ahead of 15 of them with a first-pitch strike. He threw 33 sliders, according to Statcast™, and the Cardinals swung and missed on 12 of them. The 6-foot-5 righty, Pittsburgh's No. 12 prospect, threw 72 of his 98 pitches for strikes.
For 6 2/3 innings, he was perfect. But DeJong slapped a slider down the left-field line, out of third baseman Colin Moran's reach, and reached first safely as St. Louis' first baserunner. The home crowd responded with a lengthy ovation before Kingham immediately retired Marcell Ozuna, and the fans stood and cheered again while Kingham walked off the field and waved.
Kingham's fiancee and family, including parents Don and Roxane, were part of the announced crowd of 14,378 at PNC Park. His brother, Nolan, pitched for the University of Texas on Friday night against West Virginia University in Morgantown, about an hour south of Pittsburgh.