Ken Cloude walked to the mound at Camden Yards last night, picked up the baseball and took hold of a daunting challenge.
There's nothing quite like trying to get your first major-league win and be your club's stopper. In your hometown. In front of a packed house.
The lump in Cloude's throat should have been the size of Ken Griffey's contract, but he managed to keep his composure. So what if this was only his second start since being called up by the Seattle Mariners from the Double-A ranks? Treat it like another minor-league outing -- with better lighting.
Needing a victory to gain a split of the day-night doubleheader and continue fending off the Anaheim Angels in the American League West, the Mariners placed their hopes on Cloude, a former All-Metro pitcher at McDonogh. They even were kind enough to give him a 2-0 lead in the first inning, courtesy of Griffey's 446-foot home run toward the ivy in center field.
Cloude returned the favor by coming up bigger than the Big Unit, after Cy Young candidate Randy Johnson's first-game loss by limiting the Orioles to two hits and two runs in six innings in Seattle's 8-3 victory. He walked two and struck out six.
"If I was writing a book, I don't think I could write it any better than that," he said.
His parents were here from Dundalk. So were other assorted family members "and people you don't even remember," he said.
They were treated to something special. Cloude, 22, got the first batter he faced, Brady Anderson, to look at a third strike, bringing shrieks from one contingent sitting in the lower section behind the first-base dugout. A sign was raised that read: "Proud of Cloude." No one in the group wore the orange floppy hats given out by the Orioles before the game. Just their emotions on their sleeves.
Jeff Reboulet went down swinging. More shrieking. B. J. Surhoff then completed the trifecta by whiffing at a third strike. Snapshots were taken, the sign went up again and the wings were torn off whatever butterflies Cloude had taken with him to the mound.
His heart began to flutter in the second inning. Rafael Palmeiro doubled into the gap in left-center field with one out, and Cal Ripken walked. Cloude retired Harold Baines on a grounder to first and got ahead of Chris Hoiles 1-2 before surrendering a two-run double off the fence in right.
These were the first runs he had given up while still in a game. He threw five perfect innings last Saturday in his debut against the Chicago White Sox, had a no-hitter through six and left in the seventh with a 1-0 lead, the bases loaded and the Kingdome crowd on its feet. The bullpen failed him, though, letting in three runs and sticking Cloude with the loss.
He kept matters in his own hands last night until the margin was safer, retiring 12 straight batters before a two-out walk to B.J. Surhoff in the sixth. His 86th and final pitch was a slider on the outside corner that froze Geronimo Berroa to end the inning.
"I didn't do anything outstanding, really," he said. "For the most part, I threw the ball over the plate and they got themselves out. I didn't have any kind of exceptional stuff. I just threw fastball-slider and they put the ball in play."
"He looks like a veteran out there," said Mariners manager Lou Piniella, who will start Cloude on Tuesday against Cleveland on three days' rest. "He gets into a rhythm and he throws strikes. He's done absolutely nothing to disappoint us."
Big-league stuff from someone who a week ago wore the uniform of the Memphis Chicks.
"I don't know if I was more nervous than him, but I was nervous," said Cloude's cousin, Rick Yates, 31.
"Less than a year ago, I was doing tile work with him, yelling, 'Go clean these buckets.' Now I'm watching him pitch in the majors."
Pub Date: 8/16/97