Casey Kelly fills mother with pride

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Casey Kelly came home to pitch Sunday afternoon. Then he got on the bus with the rest of the Boston Red Sox.

He'll come home to eat Monday night.

"Chili dogs," Becky Kelly said. "That's his favorite meal. It's easy for me. Yay! Chili out of a can.

"I almost asked him, 'Can you come home with me tonight?' But he would have said no. He follows the rules."

Becky Kelly and her youngest son have been here before. It was at Ed Smith Stadium three years ago when Casey Kelly, at the time a high school junior, pitched Sarasota High to the Florida Class 6A state championship.

"He did?" Red Sox catcher Mark Wagner said after Kelly pitched two scoreless innings here Sunday against the Baltimore Orioles and got credit for Boston's 5-4 win when Wagner hit a tie-breaking home run in the ninth. "He never even mentioned it."

Ed Smith Stadium was overflowing Sunday afternoon with a crowd of 8,088, the largest in stadium history, the Orioles announced afterward. Sitting behind home plate was Clyde Metcalf, Kelly's high school baseball coach. Bob Perkins, his high school football coach, also was there, along with lots of buddies, old teammates, and older brother Christopher, a minor league pitcher recovering from back surgery.

If Kelly, who just turned 20 in January, was the least bit fazed, he didn't let on. Perhaps Wagner, at 25 the wise old head in this battery, had offered some useful counsel.

"No, I had a question for him," Wagner said, "because there was this girl I met the other night, and we were on the mound, I was, 'Dude, I don't know what to do."'

After reporters stopped laughing, Wagner said: "When he goes out there and throws his game, there's nothing even to talk about. It was golden."

Becky Kelly, who was sitting just below the press box with her good friend Jan Jordan, tried to be as cool as her son. She failed.

"I'm like, 'You know the stadium, you feel comfortable here,"' she said, recounting her conversation with her son, "but the craziness -- being in front of his home crowd -- it was nerve-wracking. I was trying to be very calm, but you know you're a mom, and you're just like, it's crazy."

Becky Kelly is a jazzercise instructor and former swimmer, but she has spent most of her adult life in ballparks. Her husband, Pat, was a longtime minor league catcher who made a cameo in the big leagues and since then has been a manager in the minors, currently with the Cincinnati Reds. Becky would pack up the three kids -- Christopher, Chelsea and Casey -- and they followed Pat, from one outpost to the next.

"How many games? Oh my gosh, I have no idea," Becky said. "Someday I should [count them up]. Millions, millions. Gazillions. Some a lot easier to take than others.

"All my kids are amazing. They're all very close and very supportive of each other. Growing up in baseball, you're going everywhere. When my husband was playing or managing, we were all stuck in a car for hours and hours. It was like, 'You three will like each other, you have to do that because we've got to get through this season, so you are each other's best friends."'

Two years ago, a high school graduation. Now, an apprenticeship with the Red Sox, with a promotion to the big leagues within grasp. It's all happening so fast.

"I look at him and think, 'You're 20. You need to be 20, just that crazy kid at 20,"' Becky Kelly says. "So yeah, it is amazing."

The Red Sox were trailing 4-1 when Kelly entered the game in the seventh. He retired the first batter he faced on a pop-up, then showed his shortstop pedigree with a nice stab of a comebacker. He polished off his first inning by freezing Josh Bell, one of the Orioles' top prospects, with a called third strike.

John Hirschbeck, the veteran umpire who worked the plate, at one point struck up a conversation with Wagner.

"He was asking me about [Kelly]," Wagner said. "'This kid is only 20? Man, he shows a lot of composure out there. [You] wouldn't even recognize that he's a young pup that he is.'

"That's exactly what makes him so good already."

The Sox tied it with three runs in the top of the eighth, and Kelly came out for his second inning of work. A one-out walk and a stolen base put the go-ahead run in scoring position, but with two ground balls, Kelly disposed of the Orioles, and Becky and Jan clapped joyously. Soon enough, Christopher Kelly would be texting his dad, who's training in Arizona.

Then Wagner put a perfect end to the day with his home run.

"I know baseball and how hard it is," Becky Kelly said, "which makes me even more proud of these guys when they're able to push through all the pressure and perform like that. To me, it's amazing."

Casey Kelly was asked what comes next. "I'm getting on the bus," he said, leaving it to others to speculate about what track his odyssey will follow.

But before Wagner followed him on board, he revealed Kelly's end of the conversation on the mound.

"He said, 'Mark, you're a smart man. You're better-looking than I am. So don't even worry about it."'

Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.