White Sox's Alvarez wins game of patience

INSIDE PITCH

May 29, 1994|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Sun Staff Writer

Wilson Alvarez has grown up to be Tom Grieve's persistent nightmare.

It was during Grieve's watch in 1989 that Alvarez made his major-league debut with the Texas Rangers. He pitched one game, did not retire any of the five batters he faced, went back to the minor leagues immediately with an earned-run average of infinity, and never wore a Rangers' uniform again.

He was 19 years old.

Shortly thereafter, in one of their futile efforts to win a division title, the Rangers put together a trade package to obtain Harold Baines. Alvarez was the unknown commodity.

Two years later he surfaced to pitch a no-hitter against the Orioles. Afflicted by a common left-hander's disease, wildness, he pitched only 100 innings in the big leagues the next year, walking 65, striking out 66 and posting a 5.20 ERA. Not exactly the stuff of which stars are made.

He was all of 22 years old.

Last year, saddled with an 8-8 record, Alvarez again returned to the minor leagues. The demotion lasted long enough for him to make two starts before returning to the White Sox.

He hasn't lost since. He is 24 years old.

Watching Alvarez perform his magic against the Orioles two nights ago was like watching a master at work. Two masters in fact, because Mike Mussina was his pitching opponent. There wasn't a walk in the game, something few could have expected with Alvarez involved, given his track record.

Incredibly, the young left-hander has won 15 straight games. From a raw talent he has evolved into a pitching machine.

He has become the most recent example of how baseball rushes young pitchers to the big leagues for on-the-job training. The tendency is to be impatient while they learn and, too often, to give up before the ability has a chance to surface.

The White Sox didn't do that with Alvarez, but they came close. He was bumped a year ago to make room for Tim Belcher and had fallen behind Jason Bere, himself only 22 at the time, in the rotation.

Now, at the ripe young age of 24, Alvarez has emerged as possibly the best pitcher on a staff that includes last year's Cy Young Award winner, Jack McDowell, and two contenders for future awards, Alex Fernandez and Bere.

Not to be forgotten is that Alvarez returned to the minor leagues four times before his emergence as one of the game's most promising young stars.

It should serve as a valuable lesson in the importance of patience.

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