A matchup David Phelps had envisioned growing up in St. Louis finally came to fruition on Saturday.
On the mound, the Yankees reliever. At the plate, one of his favorite players as a youth, former Cardinals and current Angels first baseman, Albert Pujols.
"I've been rooting for him for as long as I can remember. It's one of those things, you watch big league games and it's like 'you know, I wonder what it would be like to pitch to him?" Phelps said. "It's actually cool to get out there and do it."
In a memory he'll never forget, Phelps retired Pujols all three times they battled in what was as impressive outing for the rookie. He tossed 5 1/3 innings of one-run ball in the Yankees 7-1 loss. Phelps has been spectacular to start the season with his ability to pitch multiple innings and keep opposing teams off the scoreboard.
"I hoped it would be that good," Phelps said of facing Pujols. "Anytime you can get him out three times in a a row, chalk it up because it doesn't happen very often."
The 25-year-old reliever, who rooted for the Cardinals in the World Series last fall, had never met Pujols before, although they had worked out at the same gym. He has admiration for the Cardinals slugger, who is considered arguably the best hitter in the game.
Pujols was the first batter Phelps faced after he replaced an ineffective Phil Hughes in the fourth inning. Phelps said he let catcher Russell Martin call the pitches, but wanted to pound the bottom of the zone.
He retired Pujols on a line out to center in the first encounter and Pujols flew out to left and lined out to shortstop in the other at-bats. Phelps was removed from the game after retiring Pujols for the third time.
"I've been rooting for him pretty much my whole life in St. Louis," Phelps said. "He's intimidating. You got such a small margin of error and trying to go up there and bare down as much as I can and make good pitches against him."
The reliever's performance on Saturday earned praise from his manager as he saved his bullpen with a quality performance.
On Tuesday, Phelps threw 2 1/3 scoreless innings in the extra-innings win over Baltimore. Saturday, he threw 5 1/3 innings of one-hit ball, the lone hit coming on a homer by Vernon Wells in the fifth. Phelps' ERA dropped to 1.08 on the season.
"He hasn't been fazed and he's throw strikes, quality strikes," said manager Joe Girardi, who said there are no plans in the immediate future to turn Phelps into a starter.
On a day that did not end well for the Yankees, Phelps' performance was perhaps the lone bright spot on the day. As he left the field with two outs in the ninth, the fans let Phelps know they appreciated his hard work.
"It was awesome," Phelps said of the ovation he received. "Especially in a game like that where we're down and they are still supporting us as much as they do. We have the best fans in baseball, it's pretty awesome."