Even in Scott Rice's wildest dreams, I'm not sure he expected this.
After 14 years of toiling in the minor leagues and independent ball, the New York Mets' 31-year-old rookie reliever has become one of the best stories in baseball after breaking through and making it to the big leagues this spring.
However, with other left-handed relievers struggling in the Mets' bullpen, Rice has been thrown firmly into the pressure cooker of the late innings, suddenly emerging as one of Terry Collins' go-to guys in high-leverage situations.
Through May 2, Rice has appeared in 16 games and thrown 14.2 IP, both tops among Mets relievers, and he's pitched quite well to the tune of a 1.84 ERA and .204 batting average against. Not bad for a rookie, regardless of age.
While he hasn't been perfect, he's been pretty effective for a guy who came into spring training as an afterthought, a guy who was very easy to root for, but not expected to be a major factor in the Mets' bullpen plans.
Rice made the team as a lefty specialist, and he's quickly emerged as the most reliable lefty in the pen over the first five weeks of the season. He's held left-handed batters to a .133 AVG, .206 OBP and .167 SLG (.373 OPS) so far.
His reliability as a guy who flat-out gets lefties out has quickly made him an invaluable part of a Mets bullpen that's still very much a work in progress.
"He's been terrific," manager Terry Collins said. "Extremely durable. When you talk to him, this is what he's been waiting for his whole life, this opportunity."
Rice, to his credit, has taken it all in stride. Not only has he not been overwhelmed by the moment, he's vowed to improve his game.
"I feel like I've pitched well at points," Rice said. "I feel like I haven't at other points. But overall I think it's been more good than bad."
His modesty aside, Rice has absolutely been a big boost to the Mets bullpen. He may not be a strikeout artist, but he's gotten it done with an outstanding 67.5% ground ball percentage, currently tied for fifth-best in the majors among all pitchers with at least 10.0 IP on the young season.
Of course, we're still dealing with small sample sizes here, so the sustainability of Rice's early success is far from certain. But it's certainly been one of the best stories in baseball so far, and one that I'm sure Rice will never forget.