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Trachsel trumps aces in twos


© St. Petersburg Times, published May 14, 2000

ST. PETERSBURG -- If, that night at Fenway Park, it'd been Pedro Martinez against Greg Maddux or Randy Johnson, baseball historians would've called it "The Great Duel," with a videotape being rushed to Cooperstown.

Boston's wizard struck out 17, a Dominican dynamo who seemed somewhere between invulnerable and unhittable. But, for king of the hill Martinez, an opposing arm was similarly magnificent, whiffing 11 as the two pitchers kept hanging zeros on a famous old scoreboard.

Could've been Koufax-Marichal.

Or maybe Ryan-Gibson.

That kind of masterpiece.

But, no, the other pitcher, a Tampa Bay fellow who would eventually pop Pedro with a l-0 loss, was relative non-celebrity Stephen Christopher Trachsel. His first two names are those of saints, but this is hardly a right-hander who has been accorded heavenly status.

"During my six seasons with the Cubs," he said, "I would often go out to dinner in Chicago with (first baseman) Mark Grace. Everybody recognized him. They would come over, ask for Mark's autograph, take a glance at me, as if to say "Wonder who he is?' and then leave. Occasionally, those people would return a few minutes later, saying, "I heard you're Trachsel,' then ask me to sign."

Now, in a Boston-New York minute, Steve is sizzling like a $28 steak at Ruth's Chris. In what had to be a 100-to-1 shot at Fenway, he put a 1-0 blister on Martinez's otherwise flawless 6-1 record. Next calling for the former Cubbie was Yankee Stadium.

Trachsel did it again.

Again, he worked nothing but scoreless innings, seven instead of nine against the world champion Yankees. Stevie Wonder made it a 10,000-to-1 perfecta, pulling off another 1-0 jewel Thursday night, outdoing Cuban phenom Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez.

If you see Trachsel around the Tampa Bay area, if you happen to recognize him, widen eyes in at least semi-respectful awe, telling Steve how impressed you were by such back-to-back heroics in the American League's two most legendary ballparks. Ask for a scrawl of his name.

"Trax" earned it.

Nobody, in nearly a century of trying, had pitched consecutive 1-0 victories in those treasured old New York and Boston venues. No visitor, no Yankee and nobody from the Red Sox. Not against any level of mound opposition, much less a quiniela as imposing as Martinez-Hernandez.

We're talking Trachsel, a lifetime 63-71 soldier, the victim of Mark McGwire's record 62nd homer, an 18-game loser for last year's Cubs, who until this season had two career shutouts.

One-nil, one-nil ... encore?

Unscored upon for 17 innings, Trachsel will next be examined Tuesday night in Texas. Going for a million-to-1 trifecta, a third straight gems of zeros, facing Kenny Rogers, a Rangers lefty who once pitched a perfect game.

"Going against Kenny isn't at all on my mind," the double 1-zipper said Saturday. "He won't be hitting against me." Trachsel is a quiet, anything-but-cocky athlete with no inflated illusions. He has a history of grappling for confidence. But, as we now know, when Steve is right he can compete with, even outduel, the best.

"Against the Red Sox, the critical thing was Trax establishing his fastball, throwing it where he wanted, putting doubt in hitters' minds," Devil Rays catcher John Flaherty said. "That set up his curve and splitter. When the fastball doesn't work so well, those other pitches suffer."

Trachsel has known the flip side. He has wallowed in some bad baseball. Remember, six seasons a Cubbie. "Every year, we would gather for spring training, figuring there was a real chance to make the new season a better one for the Cubs," said the 29-year-old Californian. "But, far too quickly, it would become apparent that the whole country already knew it was going to be another long, losing summer."

Sure, check today's standings. See the Rays looking up from deep bottom of the AL East. Still, when Trachsel scans the clubhouse, the hot pitcher senses far more reason for hope than he felt in Chicago.

"This team is so much better than the Cubs," Trax said. "In Chicago, we had Sammy (Sosa) and Henry (Rodriquez), with some Mark Grace, and not much else. Here, when I look around, I see Vaughn, McGriff, Flaherty, Castilla, Canseco and so much more.

"There is more offensive talent. Far better defense. One thing I do miss are the loud full houses at Wrigley Field. Those fans are unique. It's a house that deserves a winner.

"But we're going to get rolling. I'm convinced of that. When the Rays are playing good, consistent baseball, I look forward to some big, excited crowds."

A few more 1-0 dandies will help.

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