With Cubs Struggling, Expectations On Prior Even Bigger

May 21, 2002

AP Sports Writer

CHICAGO (AP) - The expectations on Chicago Cubs pitching phenom Mark Prioraren't so big.

All the No. 2 pick in last summer's amateur draft has to do is revivebaseball's perennial losers. Not only have the Cubs not won a World Seriessince 1908, they haven't even had back-to-back winning seasons since 1971-72.

And at 14-27 going into Tuesday's doubleheader against Pittsburgh, they'rein trouble well before the usual June swoon.

But no pressure, really.

'You wish they were winning a little bit more. But hopefully things canturn around,' Prior said Tuesday. 'I'm not here to try to do anythingspecial.

'Like I said, I got called up to do one thing and that's just do what I'vebeen doing. So I'm just going to go out and do what I can, give them some goodinnings and hopefully keep them close and give them a chance to win at theend.'

Touted as one of the best college pitchers ever, Prior will make his majorleague debut Wednesday night against the Pirates - less than a year afterleaving Southern California. He dazzled the Cubs in spring training even thoughhe hadn't pitched since the College World Series, then tore through the minorleagues.

He went 5-2 with a 2.29 ERA in nine games at Double- and Triple-A, strikingout 79 while walking only 18.

'It's unfair to expect he'll dominate in the major leagues the way he'sdominated in the minor leagues,' Andy MacPhail, the Cubs president and generalmanager, said Saturday after announcing Prior's promotion. 'But it's prettyevident that he's ready, and it's pretty evident that we can use him here.'

That's an understatement. Chicago's victory Sunday snapped a nine-gamelosing streak, its longest since 1997. Going into the doubleheader, the Cubswere 10� games out of first place in the NL Central and a stunning 6-14 atWrigley Field, not exactly the Friendly Confines.

The Cubs are hitting .231, second-worst in the NL, and Sammy Sosa (.324) andCorey Patterson (.322) are the only position players above .300. Fred McGriffand Moises Alou are scuffling along well below average, with McGriff hittingonly .217 and Alou .161.

The pitching staff isn't immune, either, with a 4.21 ERA.

'We're (not) going to roll off 15 in a row just because Prior showed up,'said Kerry Wood, one of the few Cubs not struggling. 'But it gives us - andthe fans - something else to look forward to. And he's got great stuff.'

Mark Prior
Prior warms up before the Cubs' doubleheader against Pittsburgh on May 21.

No question about that. Prior went 15-1 with a 1.69 ERA last year at USC.The right-hander had 202 strikeouts while allowing just 18 walks as he led theTrojans to the College World Series.

He won seven national player of the year awards including the Golden SpikesAward, which goes to the top amateur baseball player in the United States.

And, in the ultimate measuring stick, he's drawn more hype than Wood, whotied a major league record with 20 strikeouts in his fifth start and won NLrookie of the year honors in 1998.

'I wasn't looking from the outside in when I came up, but it looks likehe's getting quite a bit more attention,' Wood said. 'But he's been gettingit since he got drafted. I think he's gotten to the point where he's used tothe attention.

'I don't think the pressure is going to get to him.'

Prior's mother is vice principal of a middle school, and he continued takingclasses at USC even after signing a $10.5 million contract. His big plans forTuesday night? Going to the airport to pick up his girlfriend.

Still, asking a 21-year-old to be the savior of a team that's beenstruggling for most of a century is a bit much.

'They're always unfair to guys that come up,' Cubs veteran catcher JoeGirardi said. 'But that's part of it. Every first-round pick is always goingto have that pressure.'

And so far, Prior seems to be taking it in stride. Though he said he doesn'tread what's written about him, he knows expectations are high.

When he arrived at Wrigley on Tuesday, someone posted the back page of theChicago Sun-Times on the clubhouse greaseboard. 'The Can't-Miss Kid,'screamed the headline. Above it were pictures of Prior, Roger Clemens, NolanRyan and Randy Johnson.

'I'm not going to change what I've done. I'm just going to go out there andhave some fun,' Prior said. 'One of two things is going to happen: I'm goingto do well or I'm going to do bad. Either way, I've got to come back the nextday.

'They called me up to do a good job,' he added. 'Hopefully I can get itdone.'

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