Pitching in the big leagues is an accomplishment in itself. But being handed the baseball on the Yankee Stadium mound, under the floodlights, in a do-or-die contest in October? Now that is something else entirely.
Earlier this month, former Slippery Rock University ace Lou Trivino had that remarkable experience. The 27-year-old righty entered the American League Wild Card game in the bottom of the second inning and was tasked with keeping his Oakland Athletics, already down a pair of runs, within reach. From the same hill that legendary closer Mariano Rivera once mowed down batters on, Trivino what he was asked, tossing three scoreless frames.
“I don’t think anybody had the foresight to know he was going to be in the major leagues doing what he did this past year,” said Jeff Messer, headed into his 34th season at The Rock as The Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference’s (PSAC) all-time winningest head coach.
Seven years ago, Messer was told of a 6’5”, 230-pound high school junior that was impressing a former player’s dad in American Legion ball. The physically impressive teen hadn’t drawn much attention playing at Upper Bucks Christian in Sellersville, Pa.
The coach invited him to visit Slippery Rock that summer, unaware he was courting someone he would label today as the hardest working pitcher he’d ever coached.
“He loved it [here], we liked him, and we had seen some video on him before that […] a couple of my former players had seen him throw on the eastern side because he’s six hours away. [He] came in and he committed verbally right away.”
Despite larger schools taking notice in his senior year, Trivino stuck to his commitment to Coach Messer and The Rock’s program and arrived on campus after helping his Pennridge American Legion Post 255 finish as the state runner-up.
In his freshman year wearing the Green and White, Trivino pitched over 53 innings and ranked second on the team by posting a 2.53 earned run average. For his efforts, he was named to the All-PSAC-West squad and was an honorable mention All-Atlantic Region performer.
That summer, he pitched for the Quakertown Blazers of the Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League, throwing the team’s first complete-game no-hitter.
After a sophomore campaign in which he started a dozen games, finishing with an 8-3 record, he was tagged with multiple honors. A 1.78 ERA and 68 strikeouts in 76 innings was enough to crack the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association All-Atlantic Region’s first team. He also was an All-America honorable mention.
A record-setting junior season saw Lou earn first-team All-PSAC Western Division and Daktronics All-Region honors. He broke The Rock’s single-season and career strikeouts records with 92 and 227, respectively, but it was an outing against Seton Hill that really caught the attention of professional scouts.
Scouts there to see the Griffins’ starter that April afternoon took note of Trivino, who went seven innings, striking out just as many, and allowing only three runs to a top-25 team on the way to the win.
Two months later, in the 11th round of the MLB’s amateur draft, Trivino was taken 341st overall by the A’s. Assigned to the minors, he developed physically and was converted from a starter to a relief pitcher. His pitch velocity jumped almost instantly with the decrease in workload, and strength training and specific workouts helped refine his abilities.
At Matt Adams’ formal number retirement, Lou showed the confidence that helped him eventually reach the majors.
“He was in Single-A at the time, I think, and I remember him telling the president and me that his number  would be the next number retired,” Messer said.
He played five full seasons in Oakland’s farm system before he was invited to spring training for the first time this past year. Because of matters regarding the options major league franchises factor into player control, Trivino was left off of the Athletics’ opening day roster.
Although he began 2018 in Triple-A, he was soon promoted, making his debut against the Chicago White Sox on April 17. He soon started serving as the team’s setup man, but struggled in the season’s second half, putting up a 7.78 ERA over his last 23 appearances before the Wild Card.
After Aaron Judge blasted a two-run homer in the first inning of the game, Trivino was called on in relief of Liam Hendriks.
As if Messer was unaware of his former ace’s entrance, he was quickly notified.
“I probably got, literally, 50, 60 texts as soon as he went in,” he said.
Trivino was greeted by an infield single and then walked the next batter on four pitches.
“He was amped up. Too emotional, being in Yankee Stadium and the whole nine yards,” his former coach said. “I was nervous for him. You could tell he was really overthrowing and their pitching coach actually came out, which was a really good thing, and just tried to slow him down a bit.”
Following the visit from the pitching coach, Trivino got Gary Sanchez to ground into a double play and then proceeded to cut down the next batter on three strikes.
“That first inning went by and I was like, ‘Oh, he got through. Let’s just finish it there. He had a great outing.’ And then they run him out again. Same thing, unbelievable,” said Messer. “So, each time he went out, I didn’t know he had that much more in him and, every inning, he did better and better and better. It was a great night for him.”
All told, “Sweet Lou” retired the next six batters, with three more strikeouts.
“The moment’s not too big for him. And he just feels like he should be there. And he maybe doesn’t know better that he should be nervous, but that’s why he’s successful.”