The 2005 season opened like the previous two years had for right-hander Joey Devine. As the temperatures began to warm in the southeast, he joined his Wolfpack teammates for his third season in Raleigh under Elliott Avent. They would finish 41-19 that year, including a new record for ACC victories with 17. The season concluded with a spot in the Lincoln Super Regional of the College World Series. NC State would lose twice compared to just one win, ending their season.
Devine had been superb, though. In 28 games, he locked down 12 saves. He left campus with 36 saves, a school record. Devine also struck out 72 in 48.2 innings next to just ten walks and one home run allowed. He had been pretty good the previous two years, but now he was on another level. His final game was a disappointment. The Pack entered the seventh inning of their win-or-go-home game against Creighton with an 8-6 lead. All they needed was to get the ball to Devine and they may have lived to fight another day. Unfortunately, NC State gave up five runs before Devine finally entered to get the Pack out of the inning. He’d work through a scoreless eighth, but NC State fell 11-9.
Two days later, Devine waited for the call that would open the next chapter of his life. The Braves were on the phone, ready to take him with the 27th overall pick. Another two days and $1.3 million later, he was officially a Brave.
Why had the Braves selected a college relief pitcher with their top pick? Need. The starting rotation wasn’t very good for that squad, but the team would blow through 21 relievers that season trying to find good fits. Guys like Blaine Boyer, Macay McBride, and John Foster were setting up for Danny Kolb and Chris Reitsma. Names like Jim Brower and Adam Bernero had their shots. The Braves’ bullpen was not good and in Devine, they saw a potential quick fix.
But first, Devine would have to earn it. He opened his career with four games in Myrtle Beach. So far, so good. He jumped to Mississippi next and despite giving up a host of baserunners, he carried a 2.70 ERA over 18 games with 28 K’s in 20 innings. A dozen walks were a little worrisome, but not enough to keep the Braves from promoting Devine to the majors for his first game on August 20.
Horacio Ramirez had worked eight solid innings that day, but Pedro Astacio and the Padres pen – led by two former Braves in Chris Hammond and Rudy Seanez – were up to the task. The score was 2-2 by the time both bullpens were involved. For the Braves, new addition Kyle Farnsworth worked the ninth before Reitsma and Boyer pitched the first two frames of extra innings. After Ryan Langerhans couldn’t get a two-out hit with Jeff Francoeur in scoring position, Devine got the call.
Bobby Cox preferred to use rookies making their major league debut on the road. It was a way to get players into games without the pressure of a home park and all of the family that often flock to the stadium to watch the debut. Devine was from Kansas, but he became a name to know in the southeast playing college ball. In addition, he was just two months removed from being a first-round draft choice. Despite all of this, Cox went with him to open the 12th.
Devine gave up a single to Robert Fick, but a horrid bunt by Miguel Olivo and a grounder to Marcus Giles off the bat of Ryan Klesko ended the inning painlessly. The righty needed 14 pitches to get through the frame and Cox stuck with him to open the 13th.
After a popfly, future Braves coach Eric Young Sr. singled and stole second. After Mark Loretta fouled out, the next eight pitches were all out of the strike zone. The first half was intentional as Brian Giles was walked with a base open, but Devine had no intention to walk Joe Randa. Devine found the strike zone against Xavier Nady, but only long enough for Nady to drill a long fly ball over the Turner Field wall. A Grand Slam. Not the way you want to make your debut. Devine would give up a fifth run after a double and a single followed. Mercifully, Cox took Devine out.
Three days later, the Braves went with Devine once more. Already down 4-0, Devine entered with two outs and a runner on first during the fourth inning. Derrek Lee doubled to extend the inning before Aramis Ramirez walked to load the bases. After a first-pitch fluttered out of the strike zone, Jeromy Burnitz destroyed Devine’s second pitch of the at-bat to double the Cubs’ lead to 8-0. Two Grand Slams surrendered in just two games. No pitcher had ever experienced that before.
Devine returned to the minors, this time with Richmond, and gave up a pair of runs in his only game with the R-Braves. He’d return to the Braves soon after rosters expanded, but wouldn’t be used again until September 27. Over the next week, he worked three times, allowed a single, a walk, and struck out three to lower his ERA to 12.60. But Bobby Cox had faith in the kid. Plus, his options were pretty damn miserable. As the National League Division Series opened between the Astros and the “Baby” Braves, Devine was yet another rookie to make the roster.
He’d quickly get into action. With the Braves losing 5-3 in Game One, Devine replaced Tim Hudson with a pair of Astros on base. Devine immediately hit Jason Lane with a pitch to load the bases, which made Cox ponder if he picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue. Devine fought back and got Orlando Palmeiro to fly out harmlessly. After eight pitches, his postseason debut was a success. The Braves would get rocked from there with Chris Reitsma and John Foster giving up a combined five runs as the Astros routed Atlanta 10-5.
Atlanta won 7-1 behind John Smoltz‘s final postseason start as Brian McCann and company had their way with Roger Clemens. In Game Three, Devine took the ball with two runners on, no outs, and a run already in. The Braves entered the seventh down 3-2. Jorge Sosa had nearly been Roy Oswalt‘s equal for six innings before handing things over the pen. Big mistake. The run that had already scored was charged to Reitsma. One of the runners Devine inherited was also Reitsma’s. The other was Foster’s, who gave up an RBI single on the only pitch he threw.
Devine was tasked with getting out Morgan Ensberg, Mike Lamb, and Lane. Doing so without allowing Willy Taveras and/or Lance Berkman score would also be good. None of these things happened. By the time Devine was removed three batters later, he had surrendered an RBI double, an intentional pass, and an RBI single. Another run, the only one charged to Devine, would score when Adam Everett hit a sacrifice fly. Atlanta would lose 7-3.
The next day was October 9. Atlanta had to win or their season would be over. The Braves went back to Tim Hudson on short rest while the Astros played it more conservatively and called upon Brandon Backe. In the third inning, Adam LaRoche hit a Grand Slam to put the Braves up. They added a fifth run on Andruw Jones‘s sacrifice fly in the fifth. McCann homered off Wandy Rodriguez in the 8th to match an Astros run a few innings earlier. It was 6-1 when the eighth opened. The bullpen should have gotten the call, but Cox was skittish. He stuck with Huddy despite seven gritty innings on short rest.
A walk and an infield hit opened the inning. Farnsworth got the call to replace Huddy and he did get a groundout before walking Luke Scott to bring up Berkman. Bases loaded again. Grand Slam again. 6-5 Braves after eight.
Farnsworth threw 27 pitches in the eighth inning but remained in to open the ninth. After a grounder and a strikeout, Farnsworth needed only to set Brad Ausmus down to force a fifth game and a trip back to Atlanta. Instead…a guy who hit just three homers in 2005 hit a game-tying, two-out, ninth-inning homer because baseball is an evil, evil sport.
In the bullpen, Devine and the other relievers likely weren’t anxious to hear the bullpen phone ring. The series had been a miserable failure for the pen and now, they would need to keep the Braves’ season alive. Reitsma worked around a two-out double in the 11th and pitched two solid innings. John Thomson, who usually served as a starter, worked two quiet frames. Jim Brower, one of the few bright spots for the Braves bullpen that series, walked a pair in three innings.
As the 17th opened, it was Joey Devine who was given the ball. He struck out Ausmus and Eric Bruntlett swinging before prompting Craig Biggio to hit a pop-fly to second. Devine would remain on the mound for the 18th inning.
Roger Clemens had entered for the Astros back in the 16th and outside of a Brian Jordan pinch-hit double in the 17th and working around an error in the 18th, he was perfect. Clemens joined this marathon as a pinch hitter if you can believe it. He put down a perfect bunt and threw three scoreless innings. As the bottom of the 18th opened, he was back in the batter’s box. Devine struck him out swinging for his third strikeout. Clemens prepared to pitch a potential 19th inning.
Chris Burke was a part-time player who hit .248/.309/.368 with five home runs in 2005. When the game opened, he had been on the bench and was 1-for-2 in the series with a walk. Devine’s first pitch was a slider in the dirt that skipped to the backstop. Had Devine thrown a strike, Burke may have tried to put a bunt down. He had flirted with the idea before seeing the ball sailing away from him. The second pitch was letter-high and a bit inside.
Behind the plate, McCann had caught every pitch of the game from the Braves’ pitchers to that point. He shouted encouragements to Devine and called for a fastball on the outside corner.
It missed. The ball flattened and was about belt-high over the inner-half of the zone. Burke swung and you could tell by the crack of the bat, he had made some good contact. The left-field wall at the former Enron Park is high, but as fans in the fourth and fifth row were putting their hands up waiting for the ball, it became clear that Devine was about to experience yet another terrible moment in a series of terrible moments that should never begin a kid’s career.
The ball was gone. Of course, it was. Devine’s 23rd pitch of the game was also Atlanta’s last pitch of 2005. It was the beginning of the end to the Baby Braves and Devine would never again throw a postseason pitch.
It wasn’t the last pitch of Devine’s career, though. He would pitch sparingly for the Braves over the next two seasons – pitching more often in the minors than he did in the majors. After 2007, the Braves dealt him to the A’s in the Mark Kotsay trade. Devine would follow with a 0.59 ERA in 45.2 innings. Since 1903, only Buck O’Brien in 1911 and Zach Britton in 2016 had a lower ERA in at least 45 innings.
For the briefest of moments, it looked like Devine would finally be the pitcher so many thought he was capable of becoming. That hope was put on hold after Tommy John surgery the following year and a lengthy rehab. He wouldn’t throw in the majors again until 2011. He would last just a few months before going down with injury again. A second Tommy John surgery in 2012 pretty much killed his career.
To finish things up, Devine has transitioned into his post-playing days’ careers. He returned to NC State as an assistant pitching coach while finishing his degree. And a few months ago, he joined Jeff Fannell & Associates as a consultant.
A Year In the Life series