On baseball

Bowden appears poised for success

By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / August 31, 2008
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He walked into the Red Sox clubhouse at 3:40 p.m. yesterday wearing an untucked long-sleeve shirt and jeans. He dropped his bag near a temporary locker set up just for him a few paces from manager Terry Francona's office. He smiled ear to ear as he greeted Jack McCormick, the traveling secretary; Joe Cochran, the clubhouse manager who would assign him jersey No. 64; and Walt Day, the team pastor.

Before he could change into his pregame attire, he had some important business to take care of: Sox player development assistant Jared Banner brought him a standard major league player contract to sign.

When he scribbled "Michael Bowden" on that contract, he was officially a major leaguer at age 21. By the end of the night, he was on the podium in the Fenway Park interview room, probably feeling a lot more grown-up and speaking of his nerve-racking debut. That debut ended with his first major league win, an 8-2 decision over the Chicago White Sox in which he went five innings, allowed seven hits and two runs, walked one, and struck out three in 89 pitches.

He admitted that when leadoff batter Orlando Cabrera stepped up in the first inning, his heart was pounding. He said it was inevitable that "I was going to walk the first guy," and he did. But he turned a double play on the next batter, A.J. Pierzynski, when the White Sox botched a hit-and-run. The thumping subsided.

Bowden said he'd never felt his heart beat so hard, from the moment he arrived at the ballpark to the moment he got the double play. Then in the fourth inning, with runners at second and third, two outs, and Nick Swisher up, he fell behind, 3 and 1, but came back to strike him out on a nasty changeup. That was another key moment.

"Not only in that inning, but a couple of [others], I minimized the damage," Bowden said. "It could have been a lot worse than what it was but I made some pitches at the right time and luckily it worked out for the best."

Unfortunately, he'll likely remember the words of White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, who wasn't impressed.

"He got us on a bad day," said Guillen. "He's OK. He didn't really impress me. He beat a team right now that is not swinging the bat well. The first inning he threw all fastballs. We're a fastball-hitting team and we couldn't get him. When you deserve credit, I'll give you credit. He didn't impress me.

"He was good enough to beat the White Sox tonight."

Nineteen of Bowden's first 20 pitches were fastballs - he felt he needed to establish his best pitch, which Francona said he threw on a nice downward plane. Later, he began incorporating curveballs and changeups. He began to really pitch.

He went with Jason Varitek's game plan, shaking off the veteran catcher just once, on Pierzynski's fifth-inning single.

When Bowden trotted out to the bullpen to warm up shortly before 6:30 p.m., only a few fans applauded, many of them unaware of what he looked like. He said he noticed a "Michael Bowden" poster, and right then and there, he realized this was his moment.

Despite Guillen's sour words, Bowden's night was a definite success. He earned the victory, becoming the youngest Red Sox pitcher to win his debut since Juan Pena on May 8, 1999, and he also left you wanting to see more of him.

His mom, Nancy, who raised him in Aurora, Ill., watched her son in person last night. His sisters, Melissa and Melanie, and his girlfriend and best friend from home were also present.

Bowden admitted it felt extra special beating the White Sox because he is a lifelong Cubs fan. "For my debut, it's pretty awesome."

Bowden flashed the repertoire that Francona raved about before the game: a fastball that touches 95 miles per hour, a sharp curve, and a changeup. His command (just five walks in 40 innings at Pawtucket) is outstanding for a young pitcher.

Some scouts think his unorthodox delivery - he throws across his body - may lead to arm problems down the road, but the Sox believe he is throwing with his natural motion.

Last night, the stakes were high. The White Sox lead the American League Central and are a potential postseason opponent. Even for a pitcher of Bowden's poise, it was a heady situation.

Think Bowden will ever forget facing Ken Griffey Jr., a future Hall of Famer who hit a ground-rule double against him in the fourth? Definitely not. "I grew up watching Ken Griffey," said Bowden. "Now I'm out there competing against him."

Or striking out Swisher with a nasty off-speed pitch with two runners in scoring position?

Or that he retired MVP candidate Carlos Quentin three times?

Or that his winning debut came at Fenway Park with more than 37,751 people watching his every pitch and move?

The answer is, of course, no. He will never forget the scene, the day, the win . . . or the beating of his heart.

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