West Point graduate Chris Rowley wins MLB debut

TORONTO -- Walking off the mound to a standing ovation from a crowd that included his parents and sister, Chris Rowley started to become aware of the magnitude of his achievement.

Rowley became the first West Point graduate to reach the major leagues, pitching one-run ball over 5 1/3 innings to win his debut Saturday and lead the Toronto Blue Jays over the Pittsburgh Pirates 7-2.

A 26-year-old right-hander, Rowley is a 2013 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy.

"Walking off and all those people standing, that was something really special for me," Rowley said. "I don't think anybody really expects to experience that in their life."

Bypassed in the amateur draft, Rowley signed with Toronto and went 4-0 with the Gulf Coast Blue Jays that year. A first lieutenant, Rowley missed the 2014 and 2015 minor league seasons while on active service, which included a stint in Bulgaria.

Following 30 months in the U.S. Army, he received an exception to the remainder of his service in January 2016 but remains on Individual Ready Reserve. He went 10-3 last year at Class A Dunedin, started this season 3-2 with a 1.73 ERA at Double-A New Hampshire, then was promoted to Triple-A Buffalo in mid-June and went 3-4 with a 2.82 ERA in five starts and 12 relief appearances.

Rowley is the second player from West Point to reach the majors. Outfielder Walt French played six seasons for the Philadelphia A's in the 1920s, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Rowley (1-0) allowed five hits against the Pirates, struck out three and walked one.

"I thought he looked very confident out there," Toronto manager John Gibbons said.

Asked whether the military background helped, Gibbons replied: "There's no doubt. That's just how they groom 'em. He's been through some things."

Pittsburgh's only run off Rowley came when Josh Bell hit a leadoff triple in the second and Jordy Mercer's two-out single tied the score.

"He kept people off-balance, he moved the ball around the zone," said Tom Prince, the Pirates' acting manager this weekend while Clint Hurdle attended Don Baylor's funeral.

Rowley left after Josh Harrison singled with one out in the sixth and Bell walked. The crowd of 46,179 showed its appreciation.

Rowley is the 12th pitcher to start for the Blue Jays this season, one short of the team record set in 1979 and matched in 2002 and 2013.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.