As fortune would have it, pitcher Tim Cooney will make his major-league debut for the St. Louis Cardinals at 12:45 p.m. Thursday against what is now his second-favorite team, the Philadelphia Phillies.
Cooney, a left-hander, grew up in Collegeville, Pa., 30 miles from Philadelphia. His favorite player is another left-hander, Cole Hamels, who shut down the Cardinals 4-1 on Monday. Cooney skipped school as a senior at Malvern Prep High to attend the Phillies’ World Series victory parade in 2008.
“I guess you could say it’s a dream come true,” Cooney said Wednesday afternoon from the Cardinals’ dugout. “This is an amazing day. It’s just kind of crazy. I think I’m still processing it right now. I don’t think it’s hit me yet, but it’s just really cool and I’m really happy to be here. I’m looking forward to (Thursday) and just going from there.”
Cooney smiled broadly when asked about his affinity for the Phillies.
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“I grew up a pretty big Phillies fan,” he said. “I still remember going to the World Series parade in ’08. It’s pretty cool growing up watching a team, and now I get to finally go out and pitch against them. I think it’s kind of disintegrated over the years. I’m definitely all Cardinals now. (But) it’s still in the back of my head just from growing up watching them.
“There aren’t a ton of guys that are still around from when I watched. But it will be fun. It will be a fun little challenge.”
Cooney, 24, is starting for Adam Wainwright, who is out for the season with a torn left Achilles tendon. Cooney was the Cardinals’ third-round draft choice in 2012 out of Wake Forest University. He was 14-6 with a 3.47 ERA in 26 games last year at Class AAA Memphis.
“I knew I had a chance (to be promoted),” Cooney said. “It wasn’t the first thing on my mind because I wasn’t on the (40-man) roster. I wasn’t super-focused on that; I was just kind of going about my business. Then when I got called in and (Memphis manager Mike) Shildt told me I was going to come up, it wasn’t like a total shock.”
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said Cooney has been climbing the organizational ladder the last couple of years and was impressive in spring training.
“We put a lot of stock in what we see in spring training,” Matheny said. “He had a good spring for us. He came out and was efficient. He looked good against lefties; he threw good breaking stuff. He looked good against righties. We know he keeps the ball down. ... It will be fun to watch.”
Cooney throws a two- and four-seam fastball, a cutter, a changeup and a curveball. He wore No. 35 at Wake Forest, the same number worn by Hamels.
“I grew up watching him and kind of idolizing him,” Cooney said. “That was one of the reasons I took that number. It’s pretty cool he’s still with the Phillies and still pitching well. I actually got to shake his hand in the offseason at a training facility in Philadelphia. I’ve seen him around.”
Cooney, who will wear No. 66 with the Cardinals, will have his own cheering section at Busch Stadium, led by his family and a few college friends from Wake Forest.
“They bought tickets (Tuesday), so it will be really cool to see them and see my family,” Cooney said. “I’m looking forward to that.”
Cooney didn’t anticipate a restless night of sleep Wednesday, nor was he able to hazard a guess about what it will be like to take a major-league mound for the first time.
“I’m just going to try to treat it like a game, because that’s what it is, just another baseball game,” he said. “Just go out there and pitch like I know I can and we’ll go from there.”
Matheny said “less is more” for a pitcher making his debut.
“He doesn’t need to break down the Philadelphia Phillies and understand the weakness of every one of their hitters,” he said. “This is a great opportunity for him to trust his catcher and for Yadi (Molina) to try and lead the way. ... When you start telling a guy to relax, I think you’re insinuating that he’s not. That, typically, is counterproductive. Just play the game. Keep it simple.”
Bourjos for Jay
Matheny on Wednesday largely remained with the same lineup that generated 11 runs Monday. The lone exception was Peter Bourjos replacing Jon Jay in center field and batting first. Bourjos entered the game having been 7-for-15 (.467) against Phillies starter Aaron Harang.
“That always factors in,” Matheny said. “There’s guys on this team we just have to figure out how to get them involved, keep them involved, get them going to where they can be impactful players for this club. You’re not going to run into many numbers better than what he has (against Harang). There’s an advantage when a guy feels good going in.”
It was just the second start of the season for Bourjos, who had been 1-for-10 but led the Cardinals in stolen bases with four.
“If he gets on bases, he creates havoc,” Matheny said. “Much like we see when we get a Billy Hamilton or Dee Gordon on base. You can’t help but manipulate how you’re going to defend bases, how you’re going to defend bunts, how you’re going to defend, obviously, the running game. We know he’s going to go out there and play good defense for us.”
Sound of silence
Matheny said he watched some of the Chicago White Sox-Baltimore game on TV. Because of the unrest in Baltimore, fans were not permitted to attend the game at Camden Yards.
“It’s not the way the game is meant to be played at this level,” Matheny said. “You get accustomed to the buzz and all the excitement of the fans. But you do what you have to do. It’s an unfortunate situation.”
Matheny remembered a game against Kansas City on May 13, 2013, at Busch Stadium. A rain delay of 4 hours, 32 minutes began in the ninth inning. When the game resumed, it took just 12 minutes for the Royals to dust off a 4-2 victory. The game ended at 3:15 a.m.
“There weren’t many people here, either,” Matheny said. “The bad thing is you can hear what everybody has to say. When there’s 40,000 of them, they all mesh together. But get one angry fan and he’s got the whole platform.”