Valenzuela warms up Veterans Stadium crowd

June 29, 1994|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,Sun Staff Writer

PHILADELPHIA -- The history books will record Fernando Valenzuela's Philadelphia Phillies debut as nothing more than a no-decision against the Florida Marlins, a team that wasn't in existence when he last pitched in the National League, and Dave Weathers, a pitcher who was in sixth grade when Valenzuela first enchanted the baseball world in 1981.

But the history books are often cold and impersonal, and pTC Valenzuela's gritty six innings here last night were warm and stirring to a Veterans Stadium crowd of 47,027 that hasn't seen too much this year to get warmed up over.

"It was just a normal game for me. Nothing exciting," said Valenzuela, who left after the sixth inning. "I don't think it's anything new for me."

Valenzuela made his return to the National League, wearing a strange number, 33, rather than his customary 34, and a strange uniform, that of the Phillies, who would hardly have seemed a candidate to play host to "Fernandomania 3" a year ago, on their way to the National League pennant.

But a combination of injuries and inconsistency among their starters helped bring Valenzuela to Philadelphia.

No one in the game had seriously pursued Valenzuela, the second-winningest left-hander since 1980 behind Frank Viola, since the Orioles granted him free agency after last season.

And, in a miraculous piece of scheduling, Valenzuela will pitch Sunday against the Dodgers, the team for whom he won Cy Young and Rookie of the Year honors in 1981. He'll pitch in Los Angeles, where he spent the first 11 years of his major-league career, against former teammate Orel Hershiser.

"I still have four days between now and then and I'm looking forward to helping the team win. Next Sunday will be just another game for me," said Valenzuela.

Valenzuela's return to the National League, after a four-year absence, which included an 8-10 stint in Baltimore last year, was about what Oriole fans saw at Camden Yards last July, when he pitched 24 2/3 scoreless innings over three weeks to earn American League Pitcher of the Month honors.

He lasted six innings, and gave up just an unearned run on six hits, bending at times, but getting his slider and assortment of off-speed pitches over enough not to break, though the Phillies would lose, 2-1.

"It was almost the same [as in Baltimore]. I threw the ball over the plate inside and out and I ran the cut fastball and slider in on right-hand hitters. That's the reason they hit a lot of hard balls foul to left field," said Valenzuela.

Said Philadelphia manager Jim Fregosi: "He competes very well, and you couldn't ask for any more than he gave us. He knows what he wants to do. He did a nice job."

Valenzuela threw 67 of his 108 pitches in the first three innings, as Florida hitters extended the counts, trying to get a look at a guy they had never seen.

"He's got a [cut fastball] now. It runs in on right-handers. I hear that's how he's getting guys out," said Florida manager Rene Lachemann.

In the third, the Marlins squeezed out an unearned run, when first baseman John Kruk mishandled a throw from third, allowing Chuck Carr to reach. Carr came around to score on a sacrifice fly, but Florida got nothing more out of a bases-loaded, one-out situation.

In the fifth, Valenzuela, a lifetime .202 hitter, slapped a two-out double down the right-field line, though he was stranded at second.

Valenzuela's presence provides a shot of charisma into a Philadelphia clubhouse that could use it.

Before last night's game, there were more Phillies playing cards in a room that is off-limits to the media than were sitting at their lockers.

Former Oriole Curt Schilling, the Most Valuable Player of last year's playoffs who is making his way back from an 0-7 start and elbow surgery, begged off reporters' questions after throwing for a few minutes, opting to hide behind the trainer's room doors.

Valenzuela, however, seemed only too happy to entertain the media, and had a number of questions about how the Orioles were doing, collectively and individually.

He spoke brightly of his three-day trip from Jalisco of the Mexican League, where he had gone 10-3 with a 2.67 ERA this year, to Los Angeles to Philadelphia.

His performance last night seemed to answer, for now, any questions about whether he can still pitch at the major-league level.

"That's the reason I'm still here," said Valenzuela. "If I didn't believe that I can get hitters out, or wasn't confident, I wouldn't be here."

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