The lineup looked deep and daunting, but Devin Smeltzer had prepared for this his whole life. So he hugged his wife and slapped hands with his agent and grabbed his parents and in-laws and buddies, and then the group of 21 friends and family members who had rushed to Minneapolis in the past 24 hours erupted in cheers outside the Twins clubhouse.
In case the best record in baseball wasn't enough to interest you, the Twins on Tuesday brought this cinematic plot to a ballpark near you:
A 23-year-old cancer survivor acquired in a trade for what once was one of the team's best players pitched six shutout innings against a powerhouse lineup. On his first day in the big leagues, Smeltzer was as good a pitcher as he is a story.
"I put a lot into that back story," he said. "It's made me the man I am today, on and off the field. I know that tomorrow, between the lines, may not happen. It's been told to me before. I don't take a day for granted out there."
Tuesday night at Target Field, Smeltzer pitched six shutout innings in the Twins' 5-3 victory over Milwaukee, striking out seven and walking none. He became the fourth Twins starter to pitch six or more shutout innings in his major league debut, along with Eric Milton, Anthony Swarzak and Andrew Albers.
Then he paraphrased one of the most inspirational and tragic sentiments in Twins history. When Kirby Puckett retired because of glaucoma, he said, "Tomorrow is not promised to any of us."
When he was 9, doctors discovered a grapefruit-sized mass in his abdomen. Phillies star Chase Utley visited him before a game at Citizens Bank Park. In 2016, when Smeltzer was 20, the Dodgers, then Utley's employer, drafted Smeltzer in the fifth round.
Smeltzer's cancer has been in remission for seven years.
"Pretty much everything I've been through has turned me into the hard worker I am today," he said.
Smeltzer frequently struggled as a starter in the Dodgers organization, and the Twins used him as a reliever at Class AA Chattanooga last year. Smeltzer wanted another chance to start. He asked the Twins, and Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey told him to come to spring training ready to prove himself.
So he did, compiling an ERA of 1.15 at Class AA and AAA this season. When the Twins decided to give their rotation an extra two days of rest, they placed fifth starter Michael Pineda on the injured list because of knee soreness and promoted Smeltzer.
"They said 'big leagues,' and I pretty much blacked out after that," Smeltzer said. "Ended the conversation with, 'You've got a flight in two hours, go pack your stuff.' I was sweating like crazy through the airport and to the hotel."
Tuesday night he walked across the manicured turf of a big-league park as 27,000 cheered, and a calm settled over him. He had adopted meditation to help him remain calm at the beginning of games. He had altered his workouts and mechanics, too.
Smeltzer looked composed right up until he met his wife, Brianne, outside the clubhouse doors after the game and held her as they wept.
"It's hard to keep it together," he said. "We are all extremely emotional people. My wedding was 75% laughing and the rest bawling our eyes out, and that's what it was tonight."
Smeltzer could be more than a good story. He might provide further evidence that the Twins front office can identify underappreciated talent, along with the under-the-radar signings that have bolstered their lineup. And he might deepen a starting pitching pool that is sure to be tested at some point this season.
When the Twins traded Brian Dozier last summer, they received stopgap second baseman Logan Forsythe, slugging minor league outfielder Luke Raley and Smeltzer from the Dodgers. He could be a steal.
But why look ahead? Tomorrow isn't promised to anyone, so for Smeltzer it's Carpe Diem, make the hugs last and throw strikes.
Jim Souhan's podcast can be heard at TalkNorth.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib. firstname.lastname@example.org