As with any 29-year-old rookie who might come down the line, Carroll’s long, windy route to the major leagues was hard-fought and often daunting. There was hope, only to have it fade. There was determination, only for it to be followed quickly by doubt.
There was hip surgery in 2009, elbow surgery in 2012 and the realization that as good as baseball had been to him, the pinnacle might always be out of reach.
Well, on Sunday, Carroll grabbed on tight to the highest rung and showed that he doesn’t want to let go anytime soon. His sinker was far from a downer. He turned a brisk afternoon in to a warm, summer day. That’s what perseverance can do.
Carroll walked into the White Sox’s clubhouse in the morning with his head held high and his aim sure. He went 7 1/3 innings for a team that sorely needed it, beating former Cy Young Award winner David Price in the process by giving up just one earned run on six hits.
And when the work day was complete, the crowd of 17,313 did its best to sound double that size with a roaring ovation as Carroll walked off the field. That’s when things became difficult.
“I had to hide back some tears and fight through that because it’s been a long road for my family and me,” Carroll said. “They’ve been through all this stuff with me ever since I was a kid, taking me to games as Little Leaguer.”
His mom let the emotions fly from the stands behind home plate, spilling tears of joy.
“For me to finally achieve my dream, for my mom; she’s an angel, and she’s put in a lot of hard work taking care of me through two surgeries,” Carroll said. “It was pretty awesome.”
The White Sox’s pitching staff started the day leading all major league teams in walks, but Carroll wasn’t thinking about any of that. Only two of the rotation’s five starters are active right now, but it wasn’t on Carroll’s list of concerns. And that doesn’t even bring into consideration a bullpen that needed a break because of struggles and underperformance.
“I mean, it starts with what Scotty did today coming in, and it’s special,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “You have a guy that gets his first opportunity in the big leagues and takes advantage of it. At 29, being up there, it’s special. He was throwing strikes, ground balls. Even when guys got on, he had a sinker that you can use to get double plays and get out of innings. It’s big. He showed everybody what it’s like when you throw strikes.”
Ventura had barely taken one step out of the dugout to remove his starter when the standing ovation from 17,313 started for Carroll. It rose when the manager took the ball and reached a crescendo when the pitcher doffed his cap in appreciation halfway to the dugout.
Carroll’s first career victory was all but sealed at that point, thanks to a Jose Abreu-led offensive explosion. But perhaps more important, the right-hander knew he had also guaranteed himself a few more opportunities moving forward.
White Sox catcher Tyler Flowers knows the team’s newest pitcher has a solid chance to be more than a one-hit wonder.
“I think he’s got a chance to be a little bit better than your average sinkerball guy because he has a really good curveball,” Flowers said. “He only threw a couple of sliders, but both resulted in outs. So I feel he has a pretty good arsenal, more than your typical sinkerball guy with a slider. He has a couple of good pitches to go with it.”
Flowers said he noticed Carroll’s poise even before everybody had gotten into full uniform. Nothing changed after the first pitch was thrown.
“He looked like he belonged, the way he spoke to me and other people; it’s like he’s been here, done that and he showed that out there on the field,” Flowers said. “I’m very happy for him, glad he was able to come out firing and really glad we were able to put some runs up.
“That’s a tough pitcher we’re going against today. To be able to come through and give him an extra cushion to work with was great.”
Yet, despite everything he had done to make the day a reality, Carroll had a hard time identifying fact from fiction.
“It's incredible,” he said about walking off the field. “I put in all the hard work and just effort and stuff and to get to this level and succeed like I did, it was unbelievable. I've seen it so many times on TV and on movies and stuff, but to actually experience it and have that feeling myself, it was incredible.”
The journey seems to all make sense now, but even as recently as 10 days ago it still seemed improbable. Carroll wasn’t even on the 40-man roster or even 18 months removed from a Tommy John procedure.
He made it happen, though, by not allowing a run over his first three minor league outings this year; the White Sox took notice. Where he takes the opportunity now is all on him, but he certainly has the momentum he needs and the knowledge that a determined pitcher is a dangerous one.
“It's always been in my DNA just to continue to compete, and I wasn't going to give up,” Carroll said about his pitching career, although he could have been talking about his outing. “Even coming off Tommy John surgery, I contemplated [quitting].
“But at the end of the day, I knew what I was capable of doing here, and I worked hard and deserve to be up here.”