Monday night's game was not the first time Hazelwood West alum and Toronto Blue Jays pitcher David Phelps pitched against his hometown St. Louis Cardinals. But it was a special homecoming for the 35-year-old reliever and 10-year major league veteran, especially because of who he got the opportunity to face.
Before his Toronto Blue Jays visited Busch Stadium for the first time since 2017 on Monday, and his first appearance in St. Louis since July of that year with the Miami Marlins, Phelps texted with his wife, reflecting on the opportunity to return to his childhood ballpark.
"The three guys who are here right now, it's pretty incredible what they've done," Phelps said before Tuesday's finale with the Blue Jays, "Albert (Pujols), his resume speaks for itself, and what Waino and Yadi have done is pretty incredible.
"Back home, seeing those three guys together again, in this ball park in that uniform. It's really something."
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Phelps, who was a standout at Notre Dame before being drafted by the New York Yankees, was called upon to pitch in the 10th inning of the game on Monday. It was then that he realized he might have to opportunity to live out a childhood dream.
"We were sitting out in the bullpen, and as we were warming up for the 10th going through the lineup, we were thinking, 'Well if Bader bunts, well then of course, why wouldn't it be Pujols pinch-hitting?" the right-hander predicted.
A prophecy became a reality when Albert Pujols stepped into the box as a pinch hitter for Andrew Knizner.
"It's the guy I grew up watching when I was in middle school," Phelps marveled, "I faced him when he was in Anaheim. My first appearance at Yankee Stadium was against the Angels, and he was one of the first guys I faced. But this time, big spot, they announce his name, the crowd goes wild, game's on the line, it was cool.
"He's (Pujols) delivered in those situations more times than he hasn't, so regardless of the hitters, it's good to get a strikeout in that situation, but those are the ones where my wife was texting me, and she was kinda like 'you talked about how cool it was going to be to see him here and then you got to face him,' so it's really cool."
Phelps wound up striking Pujols out, but he was ultimately saddled with the loss, as it was his runner who scored first when Paul Goldschmidt hit a walk-off grand slam off of Ryan Borucki.
But the moment was not lost for the pitcher. With his parents, his brother Mike (a former Cubs prospect in his own right), and his family, including Phelps' young nephew , in attendance for his first-ever major league game, the appearance was a reminder of how special St. Louis baseball can be.
"It's always cool pitching here in front of family. I grew up…well I didn't grow up coming to this ballpark; I grew up going to Old Busch," Phelps said. "I've come here as a fan, though. There's something about games at Busch Stadium; it's a great place to come, a fun place for baseball."