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Hester homers in first Majors at-bat

Hester homers in first Majors at-bat

PHOENIX -- Lightning struck for D-backs rookie John Hester in the sixth inning of Friday night's 14-7 victory over the Houston Astros, triggering an amusing chain of events.

Hester homered as a pinch-hitter in his first big league at-bat, an auspicious debut for the D-backs' catcher of the future.

The immediate reaction was the roar of 26,190 fans at Chase Field.

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Then came the silent-treatment reception in the D-backs' dugout.

Then a curtain call by the four-hour-old Major Leaguer.

And, finally, a pie in the face during the postgame on-field interview.

"That pretty much covered it all," said manager A.J. Hinch. "Big league debuts are memorable anyway, but I think he'll always remember this one."

As Hester himself said, "It was a start I could only wish for. And it came true."

Called up from Triple-A Reno prior to the game due to the unavailability of veteran Chris Snyder, Hester spent his first couple of hours in a big league uniform on the bench. Then he was called on to pinch-hit for Arizona starter Max Scherzer with two outs in the sixth inning, with Brandon Allen on first.

He worked Astros rookie reliever Wilton Lopez to a 2-2 count, then sent the next offering over the fence in center to give Arizona a 14-6 lead and to become the second D-backs player this season to homer in his first big league at-bat.

Gerardo Parra did it on May 13 against the Reds. Alex Cabrera was the first Arizona player to turn the trick, on June 26, 2000 -- also at Chase Field against Houston, as pinch-hitter.

The Chase Field crowd erupted in roars as Hester circled the bases, and the fans would not simmer down until, pushed by his teammates, he emerged for a curtain call.

By contrast, Hester's reception in the dugout was a bit more reserved. Icy, in fact.

"I started off giving him the silent treatment at the plate," said Allen, who crossed the dish a few seconds ahead of his recent Reno teammate, "then when we got into the dugout, everyone else pulled it off pretty good.

"It was exciting. He battled, then got his pitch. I'm happy for him."

Allen also was happy that the shaving-cream pie found Hester.

"I'm glad they got him. And they got him pretty good," Allen said.

By the time Hester's long day wound down in a mostly deserted locker room, he seemed exhausted, both physically and emotionally.

He had gotten the phone call in the morning in Las Vegas, where Reno was in the midst of a series with the Dodgers' Pacific Coast League affiliate. A flight and a cab ride had him at Chase Field by early afternoon -- but not on Chase Field.

With the D-backs skipping regular pregame batting practice on their homecoming day after a long road trip, Hester took some batting-practice swings in the indoor batting cage.

That's right: His home run came the very first time he stepped into the ballpark batter's box.

"I was nervous and excited," said Hester. "I was just enjoying the moment."

So was Hinch, immensely: Hester, a Georgia native, is a product of Stanford University, like Hinch.

When Hester detonated his swing, Hinch turned in the dugout to coach Chip Hale and said, "That's Stanford power at its finest."

Right about the time his jubilant teammates were evicting him from the dugout to acknowledge the fans' cheers, Hester began to realize he wasn't going to wake up.

"Oh, God," he remembered saying to himself, "this is really happening."

"It was so nice to get him in the game right away," Hinch said after the game. "The situation was perfect to have him break the ice."

Hester has made textbook progress since signing as a 13th-round Draft choice in 2006, advancing one level each year while also improving his numbers across the board.

That brought him to hitting .328 at Reno, with 66 RBIs on 45 extra-base hits, including nine home runs.

Defensively, he has consistently thrown out 30 percent of the runners attempting to steal. The Major League average is 27 percent, while Arizona catchers have had a 21 percent rate of success.

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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