TORONTO — The emotions were already running high for Orioles left-hander Troy Patton on Wednesday in Boston, as he was pitching in his first big league game in more than three years.
But there was something else extraordinary that guaranteed it would be a night he'll never forget: He pitched in front of his 34-year-old half-sister, whom he hadn't met before this week.
It's an incredible story, and one that was made possible by the social media site Facebook.
Patton's father had been married previously. His ex-wife moved their daughter, Heather, away when she was 4, and Patton's father never saw her again. Before this week, that is.
According to Patton, his dad had hired a private investigator in the past to find the girl, but the attempts to reunite were unsuccessful.
"I knew about her when I was younger. My dad has always talked about her. 'Oh, it's my daughter's birthday today,' " said Patton, 25. "It really hurt him every year because he tried to find her earlier. Technology wasn't what it is now."
Fast forward to this year.
Dave Patton, who lives in Houston and is remarried with four boys, including Troy, set up a Facebook account and searched for "Heather Patton." There was a match for a flight attendant in Boston who had joined Facebook in March. It was her.
Patton's dad and the woman agreed to meet at Fenway for three days to see the Red Sox and Orioles play this past week.
"It was a really good venue for them to meet at and a low-pressure situation because they were just watching a baseball game," Patton said. "It's not like a real tough situation to have a conversation. I think it was real good for them and us all to meet up."
On Wednesday, they watched Patton make his Orioles debut and his first big league appearance since September 2007, when he was with the Houston Astros. Patton was traded that offseason to the Orioles in the Miguel Tejada deal and then missed all of 2008 after labrum surgery, spending nearly two full seasons in the minors.
He had been up with the Orioles three times this season, but didn't pitch until Wednesday, when he faced four batters in the seventh, walking one, allowing a hit and recording two outs.
"I have another two-thirds of an inning in the big leagues, which isn't much to most people, but it means a lot to me," said Patton, who appeared in three games for the Astros in 2007. "Three years since I've done anything, so it means a lot to me."
One of his outs was a strikeout of Red Sox slugger David Ortiz. And that had a little extra meaning, given the unusual reunion in the Fenway park stands.
"Of course, it was great meeting Troy, and I was so impressed with him and how thoughtful and kind he was," Heather Patton said. "But when he struck out Big Papi, that was cool. I felt a little conflicted because I have been to Red Sox games before, but you've got to root for your bother, right?"
Orioles manager Buck Showalter knew of the story before Patton pitched Wednesday. He had wanted to get the lefty into a game, and that might have provided more motivation.
"I'd like to paint it that way, but if his sister hadn't been there, he probably would have pitched anyway," Showalter said. "But it is something that I stepped back and [thought] about, and everybody in the dugout was really pulling for him to get a clean outing, so to speak. That was pretty cool."
Patton said he has now "friended" his sister — whom he says has similar hair color and eyes and definitely possesses a family resemblance — on Facebook. He expects to keep in touch with her and for her to meet the rest of his family.
"It was definitely kind of surreal. It was exciting. It was emotional, but in a good way," Heather Patton said. "I feel very blessed, very fortunate that I have my father to get to know and, gosh, I have Troy and three other brothers to get to know, too."
Patton will always have something to hold over his brothers' heads — besides, of course, pitching in the majors again.
"It's kind of cool, too, because I got to meet her first," Patton said. "Now, when everybody else meets her, me and her already kind of know each other. … She's definitely part of the family now."
Arrieta still waiting on Yocum
Starting pitcher Jake Arrieta met with club president Andy MacPhail and Showalter on Friday afternoon about whether he should have a bone spur surgically removed from his right elbow.
He walked out of the meeting saying no decision has been made. He said they are still waiting for renowned orthopedist Dr. Lewis Yocum, the Los Angeles Angels' team physician, to review and comment on the magnetic resonance imaging of Arrieta's elbow.
The 24-year-old rookie said he is still leaning toward not having surgery since it doesn't bother him, but it's a decision he won't make until he hears Yocum's opinion.