The 2003 Philadelphia Phillies rebounded from a losing season in the previous campaign to win 86 games under manager Larry Bowa for the second time in his three seasons at the helm to that point. Still, the year ended in disappointing fashion when the club dropped 12 of their last 19 to miss out on a playoff spot that seemed certain in early September.
Six veteran relievers who each made at least 56 appearances did not require too much assistance from in experienced youngsters that year. But over six months of any season there will be at least brief opportunities. Such was the case that year, allowing 26-year-old righty Eric Junge to make the final half-dozen appearances of what was only a two-year career in Major League Baseball.
A Long Island native, Junge had been an 11th round choice of the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 1999 MLB Amateur Draft out of Bucknell University in Pennsylvania. In November 2001 the Dodgers dealt him to the Phillies along with another prospect pitcher, Jesus Cordero, in exchange for starting pitcher Omar Daal.
Junge was a starter in the minor league system at Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes Barre during the 2002 season and fared well. The Phillies then rewarded the 25-year-old with his first big-league promotion when rosters expanded in September.
Per Tom Friend of ESPN, Junge had returned to Rye when, on September 10, a Philadelphia number showed up on his cellphone. “Eric, it’s Ed Wade of the Phillies. We had an injury and we’re calling you up. Any chance you can make it to Philly tonight?”
“I’ll be there in three hours,” said Junge. He would make his debut in Miami the following night against the Florida Marlins on September 11, 2002. That was exactly one year to the day after the Islamofascist terror attacks of 9/11 in which Junge had lost three friends.
Junge would toss 12.2 innings over four appearances that month. On September 14, 2002 he would make what would prove to be his only MLB start, going five innings to earn the win over the Pittsburgh Pirates at Veterans Stadium.
Back at Triple-A to start the 2003 season, early injuries in the Phillies bullpen would give him another shot. Junge pitched in four April games and then once final time in mid-May.
On May 11, 2003 at The Vet, Junge relieved Vicente Padilla for the 4th inning after the Phillies starter had been knocked around early by the Houston Astros. Junge surrendered a leadoff homer to Geoff Blum. He then settled down to retire Orlando Merced, Jeff Kent, and Lance Berkman on a total of seven pitches, walking off the mound in South Philly for what would be the final time in Major League Baseball.
For those 2003 Phillies, Junge surrendered five hits over 7.2 innings across his half-dozen relief appearances. Overall in two seasons with the club he was 2-0 with a 2.21 ERA, allowing 19 hits over 20.1 innings across 10 appearances, nine of those in relief. He had a 1.230 WHIP and a 16/6 K:BB ratio.
Though he would never step on the mound again in a big-league game, Junge’s career was far from over. He would continue pitching through the 2012 season, bouncing across seven organizations. Junge would also go overseas, pitching in Japan in 2008 and Korea in 2009.
After retiring in January 2013, Junge stayed in the game, hired as an advance scout with the San Diego Padres. After two years in that role he took on the role as a pitching instructor in the San Diego minor league system through 2017. He now serves as the Padres’ pitching coordinator.