Cloude wait is short one Mariner: Ken Cloude reached the postseason two months into his rookie year. Now, McDonogh grad may be only two games from ultimate playoff start.

October 04, 1997|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

The last time Ken Cloude pitched in a championship game was 1992. It was during his junior year at McDonogh, the season the former shortstop and catcher had turned to pitching. It was against Calvert Hall for the Maryland Scholastic Association A Conference title at Towson State.

"I think I had a better day hitting," Cloude, now a rookie for the Seattle Mariners, recalled yesterday in the visitor's clubhouse at Camden Yards. "I went 3-for-4 with a couple of RBIs. We won 7-3. There were maybe 1,000 people watching. I think there will be more people this time."

Cloude's next chance could come Monday at a sold-out, hyped-up Camden Yards. But to get that opportunity, the 22-year-old right-hander will need his Mariners teammates to overcome the 2-0 deficit they find themselves in headed into Game 3 of their Division Series this afternoon against the Orioles.

Initially scheduled to pitch Game 4 tomorrow, Cloude was moved back as a result of Seattle ace Randy Johnson lasting only five innings in Game 1 on Wednesday and the Mariners being pushed to the brink of elimination with a 9-3 defeat at the Kingdome in Game 2.

"I'll be ready," said Cloude. "I was ready for Game 4. I just want to get the opportunity. Being in that situation, I'm going to give my all. I understand Lou's decision," he said of manager Lou Piniella. "I would pitch my ace knowing he could go. Randy's earned that right. He deserves it. He's the best left-hander in the game."

A little less than two months into his major-league career, Cloude has earned quite a bit of respect himself. Of the manager who loves his competitiveness. Of the teammates who marvel at his work ethic. Of the opponents whom Cloude (4-2, 5.12 ERA) has handled with mostly positive results.

It has been a lightning-fast ride, considering that Cloude was pitching for Double-A Memphis before being promoted in August. It is even more remarkable, considering where Cloude was last year at this time. While taking classes at Catonsville Community College, Cloude was home rooting for his hometown team.

"I was sitting in the stands here for Game 3 [of the AL Championship Series]," recalled Cloude. "It's pretty amazing. I never expected to be in the major leagues. To get a chance to play or even to be on the postseason roster, it's a great way to finish the year. I'm very fortunate. Guys wait a lifetime to play in a postseason game. I've played two months."

Cloude has already experienced the feeling of pitching against his former favorite team in its home park. It came Aug. 15 and Cloude picked up his first major-league win in his second start, shutting down the Orioles on two runs and two hits while striking out six in six innings.

The 8-3 victory was shared with his parents, Ed and Linda, as well as several other relatives and friends. It was a joyful and tearful celebration after the game. "Just seeing my parents after the game was special," said Cloude, who went home for dinner last night. "I feel like I had owed it to them because they had done so much for me."

There was a person missing from the celebration. One of Cloude's two younger brothers, Doug, killed himself two years ago. He was 18. Cloude said he and his brother had grown apart over the years. The death drew Ken Cloude closer to his youngest brother, William, now 14.

Cloude still carries Doug's Little League baseball card in his wallet and has his initials written into the band inside his Mariners' cap. He said he thinks about his brother every day, and until recently, had not shared his feelings with others outside the family. "It's tough, but you have to live with it," Cloude said hesitantly.

Those around the Mariners' organization were unaware of Cloude's family tragedy until they read it this week in a Seattle newspaper. What they have seen so far is a quiet, intense young man who seemed to know where he was headed from the moment they met him in spring training.

"He didn't get a great deal of opportunity to pitch because I think they felt he needed more time," said veteran Jamie Moyer. "But he was so focused. He worked so hard. He looked like he was on a mission. When he came back in August, he had the same look in his eyes. He looks like he has a bonfire going inside him."

Cloude's success, which includes three victories in his last five starts, isn't what has most impressed Piniella. It might have been one of his failures -- giving up a grand slam to Cleveland's David Justice in a 7-5 loss Aug. 19 -- that left the biggest impression.

"He'll battle whatever situation you put him in," said Piniella. "We lost that battle, but I know we'll win a war out there with him one day."

Said Cloude: "The only thing I'm afraid of out there is being afraid. If I'm ever scared, I should just take off the uniform."

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