NEW YORK — James Norwood grew up here, on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. As a kid, he attended games at both Shea Stadium and Yankee Stadium with his baseball-loving father, Mark. So it was always going to be emotional when the Phillies’ recently acquired reliever finally played in his first game in New York against the Mets or the Yankees.
And then, last month, Mark Norwood died of heart failure. He was 74.
Imagine the emotions, then, when James, 28, not only faced the Mets on Saturday night at Citi Field but recorded three outs in the sixth inning and picked up the win — the first of his 35-game major-league career — after a few big swings from Kyle Schwarber and Rhys Hoskins powered the Phillies’ come-from-behind 4-1 victory.
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“It was amazing,” Norwood said Sunday, the smile having not yet left his face. “I was kind of more shocked.”
Norwood, acquired March 30 from the San Diego Padres for minor-league infielder Kervin Pichardo, began Saturday in his parents’ Manhattan apartment going through papers, looking at pictures, recalling faded times together. His mother, Choosri, is in Thailand with family. But there are affairs to be settled. The Phillies’ three-day trip to New York, with an off-day Monday, provided a rare opportunity.
When the bullpen phone rang for Norwood to begin throwing, the Phillies were trailing by one run. José Alvarado danced them out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the fifth by striking out Eduardo Escobar and Jeff McNeil. Norwood came on to start the sixth and got Mark Canha to fly out. The hard-throwing right-hander struck out Dom Smith and got James McCann to fly out on a full-count pitch.
Three up, three down, in 22 pitches.
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And that might have been enough to make Norwood’s night. His aunt was in the stands, along with several family friends. His wife of him, Meredith, was here, too, with her family of her, who was visiting from Illinois to lend support.
“For it to be the first appearance I had at Citi Field, that was really cool,” Norwood said. “It was just a surreal experience.”
It got better after the Phillies rallied to take the lead in the top of the seventh before the Phillies replaced Norwood with Seranthony Dominguez. Jeurys Familia and closer Corey Knebel overcame bouts of control problems to nail down the final seven outs, and make a winner out of Norwood and kick off a beer shower for him in the clubhouse.
“I had a bunch of memories in the morning, a super-emotional morning for me,” Norwood said. “By the time that experience happened [in the game], I just forgot about everything. It was like, ‘Oh wow. What a day!’”
Norwood began his career with the Chicago Cubs, got traded to the Padres last April, and didn’t allow a run in five appearances. But he got caught in a roster crunch in spring training. He’s out of minor-league options, so San Diego sent him to the Phillies.
In seven appearances so far, he has a 2.84 ERA. He has retired 18 of 23 batters and is building confidence with manager Joe Girardi. With rosters having to be reduced from 28 players to 26 by Monday, Norwood’s spot in the bullpen is safe.
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“I don’t know if it was just like a perspective on life or whatever, but as soon as I got here, it was a lot easier for me to play here for some reason,” Norwood said. “Not as much pressure when I’m out there. It’s just go out there, compete, and do what I can do and not try to do too much, and everything’s been working. It’s crazy.”
The beer shower isn’t the only thing the Phillies planned to make sure Norwood never forgets his first win. He isn’t sure what they have in store — A signed, framed lineup card? The authenticated ball from the final out? Some combination of the two? – but he knows it’s coming.
“They said they had something in the works, so they’ll surprise me,” Norwood said. “We’ll see. You work your whole career to get to that point, and to have that big of a celebration with teammates, especially with everything I went through this past month, it was a real good experience. I’ll never forget it.”