Germano's career defined by extraordinary experiences
Rangers pitcher reflects on perfecto, Fenway heroics and international intrigue
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The Red Sox trailed, 6-0, against the Yankees with one out in the fourth inning, when reliever Justin Germano took over for starter Franklin Morales. Three days earlier, Germano had been called up from Triple-A to help reinforce the Red Sox battered pitching staff, and now they needed a long reliever to get them through Game 1 of a doubleheader.
Germano, before a sellout crowd at Fenway Park on July 7, 2012, pitched 5 2/3 scoreless innings, striking out seven. The game still burns in his memory.
"To do that against the Yankees at Fenway Park, in that atmosphere ... I got a standing ovation when I walked off the field," Germano said. "Pretty awesome."
Germano did not pitch for the Red Sox again. Two weeks later, he was sold to the Cubs to help their sagging rotation, just another stop along the way for a pitcher who may have had the most extraordinary career of any player currently in the Rangers' clubhouse.
It may not be the most successful career, but it certainly has been extraordinary.
"It has been an interesting ride to say the least," Germano said.
This is a guy who once broke a home run record held by Mark McGwire and was drafted out of a Southern California high school three rounds ahead of another nearby prep pitcher -- James Shields -- who was being looked at by the same area scouts. He played in Japan and Korea, and he was the first Major Leaguer to ever throw a pitch in China. That ball is now in the Hall of Fame.
Germano, 31, may never be in the Hall of Fame, but he was once in the same rotation with Greg Maddux. He has pitched a perfect game in the Minors and twice been traded as the July 31 Trade Deadline approached, both times being the young prospect given up in exchange for the veteran.
He has never pitched a full season in the Majors but has pitched in at least one game in The Show over seven of the last eight seasons, a streak interrupted only by spending 2009 in Japan. In a Rangers clubhouse filled with pitchers who have had every possible kind of surgery, Germano has never spent one day on the disabled list. That may be his most extraordinary accomplishment.
"Obviously I love pitching and I keep getting jobs every year," Germano said. "I have faith in my ability, and I know I can pitch in the big leagues. It's a matter of sticking and being consistent. I'm going to keep going after it as long as there is an opportunity."
If not, he can always boast that he shattered McGwire's record for most home runs in the Claremont (Ca.) Little League, a feat that leaves one wondering who actually keeps such records.
"I don't know how it came up, but it was a known thing," Germano said. "He had 13, and I had 22. My neighbor was a friend of [McGwire's] parents, so I got to meet him when he was with the A's. They were playing the Angels, and I got to go on the field to watch batting practice and have my picture taken with him."
Germano pitched at Claremont High, and his teammate was Alex Hinshaw, who has pitched in the big leagues with the Giants, Padres and Cubs. So that must have been one terrific high school team with two future Major League pitchers on it.
"We were terrible," Germano said. "Baseball wasn't big at our school. We didn't even have tryouts, we were begging people to come play."
His professional odyssey began when the Padres took him in the 13th round of the 2000 Draft. He always pitched well enough in the Minor Leagues to be considered a prospect and made his Major League debut at age 21.
But he has never pitched well enough to stick in the Majors for an extended period of time, although he made 23 starts for the 2007 Padres, who won 89 games and lost the Wild Card tiebreaker game. The rest of the rotation included Maddux, David Wells and Jake Peavy, while Trevor Hoffman was the closer.
"Basically Greg Maddux was my pitching coach," Germano said. "I would talk to him in the outfield during batting practice, we'd go over the opposing lineup. Even during a game, if I was struggling with an opposing hitter, I'd go to him and say, 'I can't get this guy out. What do you see?' Between him and Mike Maddux, that's why I signed with the Rangers."
In 2008, the Padres played an exhibition game in China, and Germano was the starting pitcher. The next year, though, he was pitching in Japan, and in 2011, he asked out of his Triple-A contract with the Indians so he could pitch in Korea. That gives him a trifecta that may never be equaled.
"At least by an American," Germano said.
He asked to leave the Indians just one start after throwing a perfect game for the Triple-A Columbus Clippers on July 26 at Syracuse.
"Definitely one of the highlights of my career," Germano said. "It didn't kick in what happened until after the fact, but I was aware of it. I didn't ignore it. I just said, 'If it happens, it happens.' It was one of those games I was throwing every pitch where I wanted it. There weren't any fantastic defensive plays. I either struck them out or they hit the ball at somebody."
Those are the kinds of nights that keep the desire burning. The next stop may be Round Rock or another Triple-A town along the Rust Belt of America. In addition to his irregular time in the Major Leagues, he has spent time at Triple-A in nine of the last 10 seasons in towns like Scranton, Akron, Louisville, Columbus, Pawtucket, Portland and Buffalo.
Germano said he might even consider going back to either Japan or Korea.
"If things don't work out here, I'd go back to either one if the opportunity presented itself," Germano said.
He is not ready to update his passport. He remembers the perfect game, pitching in the same rotation with a Hall of Famer and one brilliant night of relief work in Fenway Park. He remembers the cheers, and the competitive fires are as strong as ever. Germano still believes he is a big league pitcher, and that's why he is here with the Rangers.
"You look back and think, 'I shut down the Yankees for 5 2/3 innings at Fenway Park,'" Germano said. "I can pitch up here. It's definitely what keeps you going. It gives you motivation to figure out how to get here, be consistent and stick here."
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.