Even if you don’t know the history, the moment was overwhelming. With context, it was the culmination of a long, long road back to the majors for Washington Nationals’ reliever Aaron Barrett, and once his inning of relief work was over last night in Atlanta, he broke down.
Barrett, a 2010 9th Round pick by the Nationals, who debuted in the big leagues in 2014 and appeared in 90 games between ‘14-’15, was working his way back from Tommy John surgery in 2016 when he fractured his right elbow throwing a pitch off the mound while rehabbing.
Following extensive surgery, and two more years of rehab, Barrett returned to Washington’s minor league system in 2018, putting up a 1.74 ERA, eight walks, and 26 Ks for the NY/Penn League’s Auburn Doubledays, and he spent 2019 at Double-A Harrisburg, where the 31-year-old posted a 2.75 ERA, 16 walks, 62 Ks, and 31 saves in 50 games and 52 1⁄3 innings pitched as the closer for the Senators.
Last week, Barrett got the call back to the big leagues, learning the news in an emotional exchange with his Double-A skipper.
“It was super emotional, obviously,” Barrett told reporters, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman after he arrived in the nation’s capital earlier this week, tearing up at times during a press scrum in Nationals Park.
“You know, all the time and work and being patient, and like I said, it’s been a pretty crazy four years. And just know what I’ve put in to get back, and all the people that have supported me throughout the years through this road, just to kind of realizing that it’s actually ... it’s happening. It’s happening, and it just hits you all at once.”
Barrett warmed up a few times during the last few games, but didn’t actually take the hill until last night in Atlanta, when he tossed a scoreless inning of relief against the Braves.
He threw 14 pitches total, with his two and four-seamer between 91-92 MPH, worked around a leadoff walk, picked up a backwards K, and completed a comeback that took four years.
Aaron Barrett hadn't pitched in @MLB since August 5, 2015.— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) September 8, 2019
Today, he struck out Ronald Acuña Jr. on three pitches for his first Major League strikeout in 1,499 days.
His 2019 ERA is 0.00.#STAYINTHEFIGHT // #OnePursuit pic.twitter.com/YtNdEwad8o
Once he walked off the field, with emotions welling up, Barrett broke down in the dugout, burying his face in a towel and crying as his manager, Davey Martinez, and Nats’ pitching coach Paul Menhart consoled him.
Aaron Barrett after first MLB appearance in over 4 years. pic.twitter.com/DR3kEVmTJO— Carol Maloney (@carolmaloney4) September 8, 2019
“What a moment,” Martinez said, after what ended up a 5-4 loss. “He came in, his eyes were watery, but I was trying real hard not to cry in front of him, but it was an unbelievable moment, you know, and he shared it together, we shared it with the team, he got the bugs out, but he did great.”
And Barrett’s emotional reaction in the dugout?
“It was — like I said, it was a moment that... I’ll never forget it, I’m just really happy that I was a part of it,” Martinez added.
Aaron Barrett on how he felt after completing the fifth inning earlier tonight: "After the outing was over I'm just walking off and all the emotions just hit me. Just ... you did it, man. You did it."— Jesse Dougherty (@dougherty_jesse) September 8, 2019