Whiff of greatness

BaseballSportsJavier VazquezDamian MillerChicago CubsAlex GonzalezWrigley Field

Cubs fans got a taste of what Mark Prior can do during his rookie season last year.

Now they're getting the whole meal, and they're enjoying every little morsel of excellence.

The 22-year-old right-hander shackled Montreal on four hits Wednesday in a 3-0 victory on another chilly day at Wrigley Field, earning his first career shutout.

"How fun was that?" catcher Damian Miller asked Prior after the last pitch. "I told him a lot of people in this town are going to get used to that. Pretty impressive outing."

Prior (2-0) struck out 12 with no walks in an engaging 2-hour-15-minute duel with Expos right-hander Javier Vazquez, who was nearly as brilliant, striking out a career-high 14 with no walks and allowing only five hits in seven innings.

"I came in a couple times to change shirts and watch him and what he was doing and how he was setting guys up," Prior said. "It was remarkable. He was very impressive, and I was just fortunate I came out on top today.

"That was one of those pitching duels we love to have, especially this time of year when it's cold."

The Cubs scored twice in the second on Miller's two-run homer to left off Vazquez, a blast that fought through an incoming 12 m.p.h. wind. They added an insurance run off reliever Luis Ayala in the eighth when Prior singled home Miller after faking a bunt on an 0-1 pitch.

All in all, Prior, Vazquez and Ayala combined for 27 strikeouts and no walks. Cubs manager Dusty Baker said Vazquez was "almost unhittable" but still couldn't top Prior's effort.

"It was a great pitcher's duel," Baker said. "A lot of times fans come out to see a lot of offense, but there's a lot of excitement in watching two quality pitchers who are going to be battling each other for a long time. Javier Vazquez was unbelievable outside the one home run he gave up to Damian Miller.

"Damian had a great day, too, but Mark certainly pitched like a champ today. That was one of the best performances by a young man I've ever seen. Plus I can't recall a game with no bases on balls. That was probably the most awesome thing of the game on both sides."

Vazquez (1-1) struck out Sammy Sosa three times and Alex Gonzalez four times, snapping Gonzalez's seven-game hitting streak.

"I battled out there and tried my best, but Prior was better today," Vazquez said. "He was outstanding. No matter how many strikeouts you have, the bottom line is how many runs they scored. I lost, so it was not my best outing."

Nevertheless, Miller called Prior and Vazquez two of the top five right-handed pitchers in the league.

"Javier Vazquez, if he played somewhere else and got a little more notoriety, he's [as good as] advertised as well, and so is Mark," Miller said. "Today was one of those classic matchups where the conditions weren't great for hitting, and you have two of the best pitchers in the game. We'll take the `W.'"

Prior lowered his earned-run average to 0.60 and has limited opposing hitters to a .127 average in his first two starts. He received a standing ovation for his effort and said the crowd kept him going while his legs were tiring in the ninth.

"They gave me that extra boost that I needed," he said. "To hear them chanting, it was a lot of fun.

"These guys make it great to play here, and that's why it's such a blast to play here, especially now that we're playing the game the way it's supposed to be played. It's going to be a fun year."

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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