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Prior strikes out 10 in big-league debut

5/23/2002

CHICAGO (AP) -- Mark Prior sat in the dugout after he finished
pitching and looked around Wrigley Field, taking in the roaring
crowd and electric atmosphere.

And that's when it finally hit him. The phenom who's already got
star billing had lived up to the hype, striking out 10 in his major
league debut as the Chicago Cubs beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 7-4
Wednesday night.

"It's definitely an experience I'll never forget,'' Prior said
after a celebratory dousing by his teammates. "I don't think I'll
realize the magnitude of the game probably until the offseason.

"But obviously, it's something special.''

So, it seems, is Prior. The No. 2 pick in last year's draft
allowed two runs and four hits in six innings, walking two and
hitting one batter. His only real blemish was a solo homer by Brian
Giles.

Prior became only the 14th Cubs starter since 1920 to win his
big league debut -- something not even Greg Maddux or Kerry Wood
accomplished.

"He's not yet the second coming of Tom Seaver after six
innings,'' Pirates manager Lloyd McClendon cautioned. "Six innings
doesn't really tell you much other than that he's got a great arm.
Your headlines tomorrow will say otherwise.''

Prior certainly convinced Cubs fans. The crowd of 40,138 at
Wrigley Field -- the largest since opening day -- cheered his every
strike. "K'' signs hung from the left-field fence and a rooftop
balcony.

As the Cubs shook hands on the field after the game, the fans
chanted "Prior! Prior!'' He acknowledged them by pumping his fist
as he disappeared into the dugout.

"Awesome,'' Prior said of his reception. "I'm really glad I
got a start at home first, just so I had their support.''

Though the Cubs gave Prior an early lead on Sammy Sosa's solo
homer and Fred McGriff's two RBI, he had to sweat out the end as
Adrian Brown and Jason Kendall hit RBI singles to pull Pittsburgh
to 5-4.

But pinch-hitter Darren Lewis and Joe Girardi each had RBI
doubles in the bottom of the eighth, and Antonio Alfonseca got five
outs for his seventh save.

"I was impressed with what he did today,'' Sosa said. "Going
out there in front of 40,000 people and throwing the way he did,
that was a good sign.''

Dave Williams (2-5) allowed five runs and seven hits in 4 1/3
innings for his fourth straight loss. He's worked just 14 1/3
innings in his last four starts.

"He should have better command,'' McClendon said. "I'm a
little puzzled right now. But I don't have a doghouse and I'm not
sending the kid to the minors.''

Touted as one of the best college pitchers ever after going 15-1
with a 1.69 ERA last year at Southern California, Prior has had a
meteroic rise with the Cubs. He came to spring training not having
pitched since the College World Series, yet dazzled the Cubs and
their opponents with his potential.

Starting the season at Double-A West Tenn, he tore through the
minor leagues. He went 5-2 with a 2.29 ERA in nine games at Double-
and Triple-A, striking out 79 while walking only 18.

The Cubs have struggled for the better part of a century, so any
sliver of hope tends to be grabbed tight and squeezed until it
chokes -- or leaves for another team. And the frenzy surrounding
Prior (1-0) in Chicago has already reached a level usually reserved
for Michael Jordan.

But the 21-year-old right-hander seems unaffected by the
attention so far.

"There was a lot of pressure on him with all the fanfare,''
Cubs manager Don Baylor said. "His mental toughness is
exceptional.''

Prior sat at his locker before the game calmly reading a paper,
occasionally bopping his head to Sosa's thumping CD. The fans gave
a loud cheer when his name was called during pregame introductions,
but he walked out to the mound as if it was just another game.

"I heard the crowd when I walked out and when I was warming
up,'' he said. "But once I got in there, I was pretty much dialed
in.''

He struck out at least one batter every inning, and allowed only
one extra-base hit -- the homer by Giles leading off the sixth.
Prior's only real trouble came in the second, when he walked Rob
Mackowiak on four pitches and hit Kendall in the left shoulder with
a pitch.

Prior's teammates helped him with an impressive double play --
third baseman Bill Mueller caught the ball on his knees yet still
made a perfect throw to Bobby Hill at second -- but Reese followed
with an RBI single.

"That second inning, I was almost a little more nervous than I
was the first inning, knowing I had the lead and now I've got to
keep the lead,'' Prior said. "When he made that huge double play,
that just calmed me down.''

He got out of the inning by striking out Williams.

Prior retired seven of eight batters during one stretch, getting
help from center fielder Corey Patterson, who made two great
catches at the wall. Not even Giles' homer seemed to distract
Prior. He got Aramis Ramirez and Mackowiak for his ninth and 10th
strikeouts, then retired Kendall on a groundout.

As Prior walked off the field, the fans gave him a standing
ovation.

"I tried to enjoy the experience,'' he said. "I tried looking
around, seeing what's going on around me in the stands. I tried to
take it in because I knew I would never have a chance to do it
again.

"At least not at this level, being my first start.''

Game notes
The Cubs have won three of four after dropping nine
straight. ... Williams has given up at least one homer in seven of
his first eight starts. ... Patterson was hit by a pitch in the
face in the sixth inning, but stayed in the game.