Tim Tebow hits home run in 1st at-bat as Mets minor leaguer

Tim Tebow hits home run in 1st at-bat as Mets minor leaguer

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Of course he did.

Tim Tebow hit a home run in his first official at-bat as a New York Mets minor leaguer, a charmed start Thursday night for a popular yet polarizing athlete who seems to have a knack for these remarkable moments.

Playing a sport where many thought he didn't even belong in the batter's box, the former NFL quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner launched a two-run drive for the Columbia Fireflies in a Class A South Atlantic League game against Augusta. It was his only hit in five plate appearances.

"All of my sports experiences helped me for moments like that," Tebow said.

With a 15 mph wind blowing out, Tebow hit a shot just over the 372-foot sign in left-center field. He stopped at second base, thinking it was a double -- but the ball hit a railing above the fence at the Bojangles Berm, and an umpire twirled his hand to indicate it was a homer.

Tebow spent an hour in the batting cage before batting practice Thursday with the hitting coach hitting fastballs away to the opposite field. Then on the fourth pitch, he got one.

"It definitely felt good because that is something we worked on so much today," Tebow said laughing.

Tebow clapped and pumped his fist in the air as he rounded the rest of the bases in the second inning as the crowd, already going wild, went into a frenzy. His teammates rushed the dugout railing, waiting for him. He laughed when he talked about one of his teammates saying it was the best thing he had ever experienced.

"Special things happen to special people. And that was a special moment," Columbia manager Jose Leger said.

The 29-year-old Tebow played three seasons in the NFL, highlighted by a playoff touchdown pass in overtime that lifted the Denver Broncos over Pittsburgh. A two-time national champion at the University of Florida, he left football for broadcasting after the 2012 season.

Tebow later tried out with the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles, but got cut in training camp. He then decided to pursue a career in a sport he last played as a junior in high school, signing a minor league deal with the Mets.

Last fall, in the Instructional League, he also homered his first time up. But in spring training for the Mets, Tebow batted .148 in 27 appearances. He struck out eight times and didn't have an extra base hit or an RBI.

The lefty-hitting Tebow homered off Augusta lefty Domenic Mazza, a 22-year-old who had an 11-3 career record in the minors after playing at UC Santa Barbara. Mazza was the 666th pick in the 2015 draft.

In Tebow's second at-bat, he couldn't beat out a slow roller to the shortstop. He struck out the next three times up -- two of them looking.

"There will be a lot of highs and lows in this game. That's why you can't make too much of anything," Tebow said.

Columbia beat Augusta 14-7, with the Fireflies hitting three home runs.

Tebow was batting seventh for the Fireflies and starting in left field in a league that typically uses 21- or 22-year-olds early in their pro careers.

Tebow sort of fits that mold. He hasn't played organized baseball since his junior year of high school. He concentrated on football, winning the Heisman as a sophomore for Florida in 2007.

He then went to the NFL. In 2011, Tebow lifted the Broncos over the Steelers with an 80-yard TD pass on the first play of overtime. Tebow was traded to the New York Jets the next season, throwing only eight passes.

But maybe it's Columbia that suits Tebow well. With the Gators, he accounted for seven touchdowns, threw for 304 yards and ran for 120 more as Florida beat South Carolina about 3 miles away at Williams-Brice Stadium 51-31 in the 2007 game that cemented his Heisman Trophy campaign.

Columbia is embracing the man it once rooted against. Noelle Colligan stood in a line at least a dozen people deep to buy a new No. 15 Tebow Fireflies jersey. She became a Tebow fan watching his march to the 2007 Heisman Trophy. The University of South Carolina student put on the jersey before the game started.

Then, as Tebow came to the plate, she leaned over and told a friend with the wind blowing out and Tebow's amazing career so far, she just knew he would hit one out.

"It's just not who he is as an athlete. It's his whole character. It's what he believes. It's the good work he does," said Colligan, who volunteered in February with a local special needs prom put on by the Tim Tebow Foundation.

In the Fireflies merchandise shop called The Mason Jar, employees were restocking the racks with the Tebow jerseys well into the night.

Phillies-Reds 5 things: Zach Eflin, Phillies aim for first series win since April

Phillies-Reds 5 things: Zach Eflin, Phillies aim for first series win since April

Phillies (17-30) vs. Reds (23-25)
1:35 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App.

Tommy Joseph came through as the Phillies' hero on Saturday with his second walk-off single in three days. It was just the Phillies' sixth win in their last 27 games, but the victory allows the Phillies an opportunity to take the series with the Reds.

Zach Eflin will take the hill for Sunday afternoon's start and will oppose Scott Feldman, the 'ace' for the Reds this season.

Here are five things to know for Sunday's game:

1. What a relief
It may have crept up on you, but the Phillies' bullpen is hot right now -- to the tune of 19 2/3 straight scoreless innings hot.

The Phils' relief corps came through with 3 2/3 more scoreless on Saturday to back up starter Jerad Eickhoff and give the bats a chance to walk off. After Joaquin Benoit expressed public frustration with the lack of roles in the 'pen, the team has slowly but surely found a pecking order for its back-end. With Hector Neris entrenched as closer, Benoit now serves as the primary setup man while Pat Neshek and Edubray Ramos have also been in line for high-leverage innings.

Neris has allowed just one run over 10 2/3 this month after closing last month with that back-to-back-to-back home run implosion in Los Angeles. He's back to his bread and butter -- setting up hitters with his fastball before unleashing his nasty splitter, which he used to retire Joey Votto in Saturday's ninth inning.

Benoit has seven consecutive scoreless one-inning performances. He's looking more and more like the reliever the Phillies thought they were getting when they signed him in the offseason. Neshek has five straight scoreless appearances since giving up his first runs of the season two weeks ago during the doubleheader with the Nationals. Both setup men are in line for possible trades this season and could get the Phillies something in return.

And if the rotation continues to stumble (averaging 5.38 innings per start with an ERA above 6.00 in May), the bullpen could be a backbone to keep the team respectable.

2. Needing a better effort from Eflin
One starter who is certainly struggling is Eflin, who needs to rebound after a couple poor starts.

His last two starts have been nothing short of disasters. In 10 innings, he's allowed 15 runs on 21 hits while surrendering three home runs. The appearances -- losses to the Rangers and Rockies -- account for the worst two-start stretch of his career.

Through seven starts, Eflin has an ERA of 5.36. He was coming off a string of four consecutive quality starts before this late-May swoon and had an ERA of 2.81 while averaging 6.4 innings per start.

The 6-foot-5 righty relies heavily on his sinker, so he's going to have a lot of balls put in play. However, he simply can't survive with home runs. He needs to keep the ball on the ground, especially against the slugging Reds, who have four batters with at least 10 home runs.

There's no doubt that Eflin could pitch his way out of the rotation if he can't turn things around. He's only 23 and has made just 18 MLB starts. However, pitching through his struggles in the majors is the right way to go. This is a pitcher who had a 2.81 ERA just two weeks ago and two bad starts aren't worth an overreaction.

None of his 18 career starts came against the Reds and he has not faced anyone currently on Cincy's roster.

3. The Reds' ace?
Believe or not, the Phillies don't have the worst rotation ERA in baseball. That belongs to the Reds, whose starters sport a combined 5.74 heading into Sunday's rubber match in South Philly.

In 48 games, they've allowed 53 home runs and 154 earned runs. They've walked 109 batters and have the third fewest strikeouts (185) of any staff.

So with an only OK ERA of 3.99, Scott Feldman is actually the staff ace. At 34 years old, he's played for six different teams and had middling results at each stop. For his career, he is 74-81 with a 4.38 ERA.

This season, he has a career-worst walk rate, but has limited hits and home runs to keep teams off the board. On May 7, he threw a four-hit shutout against the Giants and is coming off a six-inning, one-run start against the Indians. He struck out a season-high nine in that game.

The Phillies are more than familiar with the righty as they faced him on opening day in Cincinnati. Feldman lasted just 4 2/3 innings and gave up three runs, including home runs to both Cesar Hernandez and Freddy Galvis. It was his only ever start against the Phillies as he's spent the majority of his career in the American League.

4. Players to watch
Phillies: Joseph has been the Phillies' saving grace recently. In both games he finished with walk-off singles, he also hit a home run and he's looking more and more like the hitter that took the Phils' lineup by storm last summer.

Reds: Votto is undoubtedly one of the best hitters in baseball. The 33-year-old Canadian is 0 for 7 with a walk in this series but has a .413 OBP this season with more walks (36) than strikeouts (26).

5. This and that
• Howie Kendrick made his fourth rehab appearance on Saturday with Triple A Lehigh Valley. He went 1 for 5 and played the full game at third base.

• The Phillies have not won consecutive games since their six-game win streak concluded on April 27.

• The Phils lost their last eight series, beginning in Los Angeles against the Dodgers on April 28-30.

• The Phillies are 9-11 in one-run games. They were 28-23 in those contests last year.

Howie Kendrick makes 4th rehab appearance in Lehigh Valley

Howie Kendrick makes 4th rehab appearance in Lehigh Valley

Howie Kendrick on Saturday night made his fourth rehab appearance in Triple A during Lehigh Valley's 13-1 rout of the Louisville Bats in Allentown.

Kendrick went 1 for 5 with a run scored and three strikeouts. He also grounded into a double play and left two runners in scoring position.

It was his second rehab game playing third base. He played third during his appearance in the IronPigs' 8-4 loss Thursday to the Indianapolis Indians. He was 0 for 1 in three plate appearances with a run scored and was hit by a pitch twice (see story).

The Phillies' plan for Kendrick was to have him play a minimum four games at Lehigh Valley. He played left field in two games and third base twice. Pete Mackanin said Wednesday that Kendrick would also get a game at first base but he hasn't gotten a game at first yet.

There is a chance Kendrick could be recalled Sunday before the Phillies’ series finale against the Cincinnati Reds depending on how he feels.

Kendrick has been sidelined since April 15 with an oblique strain. In 10 games before the injury, Kendrick went 13 for 39 (.333) with five extra-base hits and four walks while exclusively playing left field.