Lance McCullers debuted in the major leagues 30 years ago on the same San Diego Padres team as future Hall of Fame reliever Rich Gossage and was bestowed with the nickname “Baby Goose.”
Thirty years later, McCullers’ son will start an elimination game for the Houston Astros in Game 4 of their American League Division Series against the Kansas City Royals. On Monday afternoon inside Minute Maid Park, Lance McCullers Jr. will do something his father never did in 306 major-league pitching appearances: Take the mound in a playoff game.
“You can’t go into a game like tomorrow and just say to yourself, oh, it’s like every other game you ever pitched in, because it’s not. And I’m OK with that,” said McCullers, 22. “I’m going to attack that head on, understand that the moment’s bigger, the stage is bigger.”
McCullers says he’s prepared for the moment because of his body of work during the regular season. He was promoted to the majors from Class AA in May and allowed three runs or fewer in nine of his first 10 starts, including a 6-1 victory over the Royals on June 29 in Houston.
On that Monday night, McCullers held the Royals to one run and four hits, using a lively fastball in the mid-90s and what manager Ned Yost called a “big, breaking curveball.” The Royals did not exhibit much patience at the plate and of the 26 batters McCullers faced, only three hit the ball to the opposite field. That included the Royals’ only run, a Salvador Perez homer to left field.
Unlike that night, the Royals will have Eric Hosmer and Alcides Escobar in the lineup for Game 4. McCullers might also see the Royals be more selective at the plate.
“I’m not going to change my approach,” McCullers said. “Every time I go out there my approach is to attack the zone and with all the pitches I have.”
McCullers says he’s spoken with his father about the chance to either save the Astros’ season or send them into the American League Championship Series.
In his father’s first full big-league season in 1986, he posted a 2.78 ERA in 70 appearances, saving seven games alongside Gossage. McCullers Jr. made 22 starts in his debut year, going 6-7 with a 3.22 ERA.
“It’s really special,” he said.
“I may get a little anxious like I do before pretty much every start, but I’m going to go out there and I’m going to compete and I’m not going to hold anything back.”