Highland High graduate Jake Odorizzi will make his Busch Stadium debut Tuesday, and there will be no shortage of support in the stands.
Odorizzi, a right-hander for the Tampa Bay Rays (47-53), said Monday as many as 500 family members, friends and other local fans could be in attendance for the 7:15 p.m. game against the St. Louis Cardinals (54-45).
"It's going to be a unique experience. A lot of people don't get to do it," said Odorizzi (5-8, 4.01 ERA). "It worked out well that I'm actually going to be throwing while I'm here. I'm looking forward to it and I'm ready for it to be here."
Odorizzi's immediate family, including parents Mike and Juli, and wife Carissa, will be in the crowd.
"The 'X' factor is how many people from Highland are going to be coming over that I don't know of," said Odorizzi, 24. "(But) it's something I can't really think about, honestly. They all got to watch when I threw against St. Louis earlier on TV, so it's kind of the same except this is in-person.
"But again, it's not something I can really think about while I'm out there trying to navigate through a lineup. (The Cardinals) are a good team and they're playing really well right now. I just have to go out and work my way through as best I can."
Odorizzi will match up against Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright (12-4, 1.83 ERA) for the second time this season. Odorizzi lost 1-0 to Wainwright on June 10 at Tropicana Field, allowing only Matt Holliday's sixth-inning home run.
"It's matchup No. 2," Odorizzi said. "I was on the unlucky side of the first meeting, so I'll try to duplicate what I did and hopefully be on the winning side. Certain nights, that's just how it goes. (Wainwright) threw the ball well that day, too. It's just baseball."
Odorizzi has allowed three earned runs or less in his last seven starts, which began with the June assignment against the Cardinals. He is 3-2 with a 2.28 ERA during that span, with 14 walks and 45 strikeouts in 43 1/3 innings. In both of Odorizzi's losses, the Rays were blanked.
"I'm really happy how the ball's coming out. The results have been good," said Odorizzi, who has 116 strikeouts in 101 innings. "I've been able to keep the team in the game every time I've been out there, and that's the most important thing --give us a chance to win every time I'm out there."
Growing up, Odorizzi made dozens of treks from Highland to St. Louis to watch the Cardinals, his favorite team.
Most of his visits were to Busch Stadium II, which was razed after the 2005 season. Odorizzi expects to feel at ease for his first game in St. Louis as a professional.
"I think once I get there and get out and start playing catch, it will feel just like any other game would," Odorizzi said. "That will be the big key: just get out there, get moving and get going and I'll be good to go."
Odorizzi knew over the winter that a start in St. Louis was a possibility. But with it being a two-game series, it had to work out perfectly for him to get a start.
"I saw it on the schedule at the beginning of the year and it was something I thought about: 'I would like to have a chance to get back and throw in a place I know very well and have been to a lot of times,'" Odorizzi said. "Since then, I haven't really thought about it too much. It was out of my control or it was just going to happen. I couldn't look forward to it when I had other games to pitch leading up to it."
Odorizzi enjoys being with Tampa Bay, even though the Rays' home attendance ranks last in the American League. He is part of a rotation with 2012 Cy Young Award winner David Price, Chris Archer, Alex Cobb and veteran Erik Bedard. Cobb (5-6, 4.08 ERA) will pitch in the series finale at 6:15 p.m. Wednesday against Lance Lynn (11-6, 3.13 ERA).
"I think it's a great fit for me," Odorizzi said. "It's what any pitcher could hope for. You have a leader and Cy Young-winner leading the way for you. You can ask questions when you have a guy like David. I like being there each and every day. You can learn something from him. He's an awesome teammate and an even better person."
Odorizzi did not accompany Price and third baseman Evan Longoria on Sunday when the Cardinals finished their three-game series against the Los Angeles Dodgers with a 4-3 loss. The players tweeted photographs from their seats in left field.
"I saw that they went. I thought that was pretty funny," Odorizzi said. "It's a great baseball atmosphere, so I don't blame them for wanting to go check it out. I just took it easy. I didn't feel like rushing over there to watch the second half of the game."
The Cardinals, who won the first two games of the Dodgers series, are tied with the Milwaukee Brewers for first place in the National League Central.
"There is no time to take a breath," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "We have to keep the throttle down every single day. With the expectations that we put on ourselves, that's how we always need to be."