OKC Dodgers: Journeyman Blake Gailen gets his shot in rare bullpen appearance
Blake Gailen had just completed batting practice when Oklahoma City manager Travis Barbary approached him.
Gailen was finally getting his shot.
The Dodgers desperately needed a relief pitcher Tuesday night, even if it meant activating their 34-year-old outfielder who had yet to play this season.
It was supposed to be a last-ditch effort to survive the night. An inning, maybe two. It turned out to be so much more.
“He ended up shoving,” Dodgers prospect Matt Beaty said of Gailen's dominant performance.
On a night where the Dodgers looked on their way to a blowout loss to Omaha, Gailen found his moment to shine with 3 1/3 innings of shutdown baseball to allow OKC to rally for a wild 13-12 victory late Tuesday night.
The left-hander has never advanced past Triple A. He’s spent the majority of his 12-year career in independent baseball. But he stifled Omaha hitters with a mix of a 75-mph fastball and a dancing knuckleball he’s polished with legendary knuckleballer Charlie Hough. Gailen allowed just one hit and four walks while striking out three.
He earned the victory on a night OKC threw three pitchers — Brock Stewart, Zach McAllister and Kevin Quackenbush — who have combined for 519 appearances and more than 883 innings of MLB baseball.
“Obviously, I’m not here for that,” Gailen said. “It was definitely fun to get out there and compete again.”
Gaillen paused to think of the moment.
“It was a blast, man.”
Gailen spent last season playing for independent Atlantic League’s Lancaster Barnstormers. He hit a career-high 28 home runs.
But this season the Dodgers reached out looking to add depth with a player who had played in Double-A Tulsa two years ago. They never guaranteed Gailen a roster spot. A Los Angeles native, he jumped at the opportunity.
“When it came down to not necessarily being an impact star on the team, I understood,” Gailen said. “Where I’m at in my career, I’m playing independent ball not for the money but to get an opportunity.”
It was in spring training he mentioned pitching to the front office. He’s getting older and this could help him get a chance. He approached Hough and found a handful of times to work on his knuckleball.
The first time Gailen threw the knuckleball Tuesday night, the radar gun read 50 mph. By the end of the night, Gailen threw 72 pitches. He estimated 30-40 percent were knuckleballs.
And the Dodgers walked off with the win on a two-run single by Edwin Rios, scoring six runs in the ninth.
“It didn’t quite play out the way we had it planned, but it played out pretty good nonetheless,” Barbary said. “It’s a night I think most of these guys will never forget when they’re talking about crazy things in the minor leagues when they get older.”
It’s certainly a memory Gailen will cherish.
He returned to the injured list before Wednesday’s game. His big moment would live on until he gets another shot, whether it’s as a pitcher or outfielder.
“If it came down to me throwing knuckleballs for the rest of my career, I’m in,” Gailen said. “I don’t care because there’s nothing I’d rather be doing than wearing spikes.”