First-round draft pick Mike Pelfrey, long expected by fans and media to wind up with the Mets by season's end, wasn't a complete surprise to be summoned to New York, assigned his major league debut in a Saturday doubleheader against the Florida Marlins.
The other call-up, Binghamton closer Henry Owens, may have arrived at Shea Stadium with decidedly less fanfare, but no smaller amount of excitement.
Helped by a lead-footed limousine driver, Owens rocketed up the New Jersey Turnpike from Trenton – where Binghamton was set to open a weekend series with the Thunder – to Shea Stadium, popping up in the Mets' bullpen by the seventh inning of New York's game against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Conversely, Pelfrey could take his time, as he wouldn't be activated for his start until two days later. So Owens enjoyed the extra adrenaline rush, but that was nothing new to the right-hander, who emerged as one of the Eastern League's dominant late-inning firemen.
"Pelfrey seemed excited, but you could tell he was probably expecting [the call] at some point," Owens said. "It was obviously very welcome news for both of us, but I think I had a little more excitable reaction."
A converted catcher taken by the Mets in the 2004 Rule V draft, Owens blossomed this season at Binghamton after a strong winter showing placed him on New York's 40-man roster. At the time of his call-up to New York, Owens had been perfect in 11 save opportunities for Binghamton, posting a 2-1 record and 1.08 ERA in 23 appearances.
Owens was scored upon in just two of his 23 appearances, spanning 25 innings, and had allowed just as many hits – eight – as walks. Showcasing a fastball that reportedly sizzled near 100 MPH and a developing slider that many believed Owens needed as a second pitch, the 27-year-old had struck out 51 batters.
"I wouldn't say it's ever easy," Owens said, "but there were times where I felt very comfortable with my delivery and my ability to make pitches consistently."
Owens originally signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates as a non-drafted free agent in June 2001, but elbow tendinitis and back problems sidetracked his 2004 season at Class-A Lynchburg. Owens finished the year with a 4.28 ERA in 54.2 innings, and the Pirates left him unprotected in the Rule V draft, leading the Mets to take a low-cost flyer on the right-hander.
Owens hasn't completely escaped the injury bug yet, as he missed all of May with a small tear in a right elbow ligament.
Getting word of the diagnosis turned out to be far more devastating experience for Owens than the actual injury, which was treated simply by allowing Owens more rest between starts before returning him to a usual back-to-back pitching schedule.
"When I actually got the injury, it didn't feel serious," Owens said. "The doctors came back and when they told me it was a small tear, I instantly panicked. But I never had any pain or any soreness, just a little bit of tightness in the area."
He returned to Binghamton in June and posted a 0.00 ERA with four saves in nine appearances, striking out 16 in nine innings. Even with the successful return, Binghamton pitching coach Mark Brewer said that the club would continue to monitor his progress closely.
Owens said the rest helped, as the extra tightness he'd felt after most appearances had started to dissipate.
"I felt as soon as I came back after the injury, I was healthy and I picked up right where I left off," Owens said. "My mindset was to just pound the strike zone with all my pitches, and stay focused on making pitches and going aggressive after hitters."
Owens – who once entertained thoughts of medical school as a walk-on backstop at Division II Barry University in Miami, Fla. – said the turning point in his development came last season with Class-A St. Lucie of the Florida State League, right around the All-Star Break.
Owens hadn't made much of an impression on his new organization to that point, posting a 4.97 ERA in April 2005 and a 5.17 mark in May, but he was out-and-out dominant in June, allowing just one earned run in 11.1 innings for a 0.79 ERA and striking out 13.
Owens allowed just two earned runs the rest of the season, striking out 28 in 14.2 innings and finishing the year 2-5 with a 3.15 ERA and four saves before moving on to the Arizona Fall League and the Puerto Rican Winter League.
"Things started to click and make sense and I just ran with that," Owens said, "I feel like I'm able to repeat my delivery better, and I'm able to make pitches consistently. My breaking ball is sharper and I can command it better.
"I really feel like I've gone out there and given my best effort. There are a lot of improvements that I made last year, and that I'm continuing to make. I feel they're going to be made, and I'm confident."
Owens Repeating His Way To Shea
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