Back in 2004, the Milwaukee Brewers trusted a young pitcher just called up from Double-A to start against the Cardinals.
16 years ago, on April 24, 2004, a 22 year old righty just called up from Double-A named Chris Saenz made his major league debut for the Milwaukee Brewers against the division-rival St. Louis Cardinals.
It’s a debut that neither Saenz nor Brewers fans should soon forget.
Chris Saenz’s Path
Saenz was drafted in the 28th round of the 2001 MLB Draft out of Pima CC in Tucson, AZ. He was steadily rising through the minor leagues, starting off as a reliever before moving full time to the rotation in 2003, when he posted a 5.04 ERA in 26 starts.
Early in 2004, the Brewers were down a starter with Chris Capuano going on the DL and manager Ned Yost needed someone to make a spot start. Lucky for Saenz, his spot in the rotation lined up with when the Brewers needed him.
What followed was perhaps the best major league debut Miller Park has ever seen and the best debut I have ever seen. I was at that game in 2004, and it was incredible to watch.
Saenz dominated his way through six shutout innings, scattering only two hits and striking out seven. In a stretch from the third inning through the sixth, Saenz retired eight straight hitters. He gave up the first hit for the Cardinals in the first inning, and didn’t give up another until the sixth.
The only two hits that Saenz gave up were to Ray Lankford and Albert Pujols, both singles.
After giving up a walk to Renteria to start the 7th inning, Ned Yost decided to pull Saenz from the game and bring in Jeff Bennett from the bullpen.
Saenz’s major league debut was done, having gone six strong innings against a vaunted Cardinals lineup, and he kept a pristine 0.00 ERA. He ended up getting the win as the Brewers closed it out with a 3-1 victory.
Saenz is only the fourth pitcher in history, and first since 1899(!) to start his only major league game, give up no runs, pitch at least six innings, and get the win.
The Last We Saw Of Saenz
After the game, Chris Saenz was sent back down to Double-A Huntsville, having spent just a short amount of time in a major league clubhouse. Still, there was a lot of excitement about Saenz among Brewers fans and the potential future that he had.
Later that year, Saenz suffered an elbow injury down in Double-A and had to undergo Tommy John surgery. That caused him to miss the rest of 2004 as well as all of 2005 and 2006 before getting released and signing with the Angels on a minor league deal in 2007. He struggled there and it was the last time he played in affiliated ball.
It’s such a shame that such a promising young player only had that one game in the big leagues and shortly afterwards, he threw his last pitch for the Brewers organization.
What is the now 38-year-old doing today? We don’t know specifically. He’s not on social media so it’s tough to find info about him. According to a thread on brewerfan.net, Saenz went back to Tucson and still plays in a local rec league and dominates.
Saenz’s start is still legendary around Milwaukee, and although injuries derailed the rest of his career, he can still hold his head high, knowing that he has a career 0.00 ERA in the big leagues and shut down a dominant Cardinals team that won 105 games that year and won the division.
The Brewers that year went 67-94, finishing last in the division. Although that victory over the Cardinals didn’t make much difference in the long run that year, his start was one of the highlights of that season.