Ex-Pasco star makes pitch for glory

Tyler Clippard wins his big league debut, pitching the Yankees past the Mets on ESPN.

Published May 22, 2007

NEW PORT RICHEY - Phil Bell loves the Red Sox.

And he's a huge baseball fan. He reads baseball Web sites several times a week and, of course, he loves to boo the Yankees.

Pasco County's athletic director was Mitchell High's baseball coach a few years back and worked with perhaps one of the best talents to pass through the county.

That pitcher has left a soft spot in Bell's heart for New York.

Bell was delighted to learn Friday former Mitchell pitcher Tyler Clippard would make his major league debut Sunday for the Yankees in the Subway Series.

One of his buddies, a Yankee fan, sent him the news via e-mail. Bell, in attempt to flex his baseball knowledge, had told the friend just weeks earlier to keep a lookout on the one prospect he knew personally: Clippard.

And now, there he was on the mound at Shea Stadium, with ESPN's cameras capturing each pitch.

Hall of Famer Joe Morgan broke down Clippard's pitching style pointing out his unorthodox delivery and how it kept batters off balance.

To Bell, it was surreal seeing the former Mustang in a Yankee cap Sunday.

"What a stage, " Bell said. "To be on national TV, to stop a two-game slide for the Yankees. It couldn't have been scripted any better for him."

Clippard told reporters after the game it was the "best day of my life."

He was the toast of New York after he helped lift the Yankees past the Mets 6-2 for his first big league victory. He pitched six innings, struck out six and allowed just three hits.

Bell watched as Clippard started the night mowing down Jose Reyes on three consecutive pitches. He took down the Mets in order for an impressive first inning.

Bell thought back to Clippard's days at Mitchell.

"He was one of those guys that had a live arm, " Bell said. "As a sophomore, you knew down the road he'd keep developing and getting bigger and stronger."

Clippard hit a rough patch in the second when he gave up a home run to David Wright, then loaded the bases on a walk to Mets pitcher John Maine.

He got out of the jam by forcing Reyes to pop out to left.

Clippard cruised through the final four innings before being pulled after six, even helping his cause with a double to centerfield in the fifth.

What Bell witnessed Sunday in his living room reminded him a lot of the pitcher he coached for three seasons at Mitchell.

"Tyler was always a fierce competitor, obviously very talented, " Bell said. "He was serious about what he did. When he took the mound, he was there and you knew for a long day."

Clippard enjoyed his best season at Mitchell as a junior in 2002 when he won six games and had the county's second lowest ERA at 1.18.

His high school career ended prematurely when Bell dismissed Clippard during his senior season after he was charged with DUI after a traffic stop for failing to obey a stop sign.

Bell called Clippard's dismissal one of the toughest decisions of his career.

"I have thought about it 1, 000 times since, " Bell said. "I hope as Tyler got older, he understood. It was unbelievably difficult."

Bell has only talked to Clippard once since the dismissal though he has gone to a few of his spring training games. The two crossed paths at a Home Depot about a year later.

"I talked to him for just a minute, " Bell said. "I wished him the best."

Seeing Clippard shine on Sunday made Bell feel a little bit better. "I'm excited for him and his family, " Bell said. "Since high school, he's made the best of his opportunity. He's had a great career."

Izzy Gould can be reached at igould@tampabay.com or (727) 580-5315.