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Harper pitches two-hitter for his first victory

Rookie righty dominates Toronto 6-0, damaging the Blue Jays' hopes to reach the post-season.

By MARC TOPKIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 25, 2000


TORONTO -- They say you always remember your first one. Travis Harper certainly won't have any trouble remembering this one.

Harper earned his first major-league win in spectacular fashion Sunday, firing a two-hit complete game to lead the Devil Rays to a 6-0 victory that may have ended Toronto's post-season hopes.

The 24-year-old right-hander showcased the talent and the learning ability that got him from Double-A Orlando to Triple-A Durham to the big leagues this season, repeatedly hitting spots with a crisp fastball and mixing in an occasional changeup and curveball.

"He showed you everything he's learned and he used it all today," manager Larry Rothschild said. "He knows how to pitch and he thinks ahead of the hitters."

Harper was hardly taxed during his nine-inning, 128-pitch masterpiece, the first two-hit complete game in team history. Darrin Fletcher singled cleanly to center to lead off the third and, after the Rays were up 2-0, Tony Batista dropped a double into left-center in the seventh.

Strong defense, especially by shortstop Ozzie Guillen, was key, while three hits from Fred McGriff and a three-run eighth-inning homer by catcher John Flaherty sparked the offense. After going 29 games without exceeding five runs, the Rays have scored six in back-to-back games.

"I looked at him after eight innings and he didn't even have any sweat on his face," Rothschild said. "I don't know if he just doesn't sweat or what."

Surviving the congratulatory postgame beer shower from his teammates and a media inquisition that included a dozen writers and four Toronto TV crews seemed a tougher task for the soft-spoken West Virginian.

Harper said that he and Flaherty "were on the same page" and that his teammates "deserve some of the credit" and that "it was just one of those days" and that his goal was just "to go out and keep us in the game and give us a chance to win" and that getting the complete game and the shutout "was just icing on the cake."

Finally, he acknowledged just how special it was.

Harper isn't big on mementos, unsure even of what items he has saved to mark various milestones. But he had the ball from Sunday's final out safely in his locker and planned to take special care of it.

"This one will be kept in a good place," Harper said. "I'll keep close dibs on it. It's going to the house."

Harper became the first pitcher to earn his first win in a complete game shutout since Colorado's Mark Brownson in July 1998, and the first American Leaguer since California's Tim Fortugno in 1992.

"I like the way he went after people in the strike zone but not in the middle of the strike zone," Rothschild said. "And I liked the way he pitched with a lead especially. That tells you something about a young pitcher."

While the Rays raved about Harper's performance, the Blue Jays, who are now 51/2 games behind the Yankees in the East and 31/2 out of the wild-card spot, had mixed reviews after what could be their biggest loss of the year.

"I didn't think he was anything spectacular, but you have to give him credit," Shannon Stewart said. "But it was nothing we haven't seen before. I don't know, maybe we were just sluggish."

Toronto starter Steve Trachsel turned in a performance similar to what he often did during his four months for the Rays, pitching just well enough to lose. He allowed eight hits and two runs in seven innings.

"It's disappointing; that might be the game that costs us," Trachsel said. "Give (Harper) credit. He pitched his a-- off. He might be their Opening Day starter next year."

That might be getting a little ahead of things, but the Rays all were pleased with the progress Harper has made. He was bombed during an Aug. 4 cameo, then was recalled Sept. 4 and showed improvement in each of three appearances leading to Sunday's start.

"Maybe he's getting a little more comfortable and we're starting to see the guy who we heard about," Flaherty said.

"You've got to remember this is a kid trying to get his feet on the ground in the big leagues against a lineup like this that at any time can explode. It was just unbelievable. He was very poised and when we got the three extra runs, he just said, "This is my game, let's go.' He finished up very strong. For me, it was a lot of fun to catch. It was very simple out there. A great day."

Battle for the bottom

A glance at the Rays' standing among the teams with the worst records in the major leagues:

(W, L, Pct., GA)

Cubs -- 62 -- 93 -- .400 --

Phillies -63 -- 92 -- .406 -- 1

RAYS -63 -- 91 -- .409 -11/2

Pirates -- 65 -- 91 -- .417 -21/2

You don't say

The Devil Rays don't have much history, but they have some traditions. When a pitcher wins his first big-league game, he gets doused with beer by his teammates. And what did the Rays have for Travis Harper? "I think they got me with everything in the clubhouse," Harper said. "I was (aware of it), but I wasn't ready for it."

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