Despite falling behind nearly every hitter he faced, right-hander Rick Ownbey drew passing marks Thursday on his first major league start in more than 18 months.
“I liked what I saw,” St. Louis Cardinals Manager Whitey Herzog said after watching Ownbey team with Todd Worrell for a five-hit, 4-2 victory over the Chicago Cubs. “A lot of his pitches were close. He wasn’t getting too many of the calls.”
Ownbey, who walked four and struck out two in six-plus innings, labeled his 110-delivery effort satisfying but one that could stand improvement.
“It’s such a thrill to be with this club. The fact that I didn’t pitch well and still won was a big plus,” the 28-year-old pitcher said. “I didn’t feel nervous, but I did feel body tension. I have to pitch loose and I’m sure, as the season wears on, I’ll be able to pitch a lot better than I did today.”
Altogether, including four by Worrell in the final three innings, St. Louis’ pitchers combined to issue an uncustomary total of eight walks.
“I think my mechanics were off a little on my windup. I think that’s what accounted for my uncharacteristic lack of control,” Worrell said. “It’s not something that can’t be straightened out.”
As Ownbey and Worrell struggled, so did Chicago right-hander Dennis Eckersley, who yielded only four hits--all singles.
One of the Cards’ hits was Ozzie Smith’s single, a two-run rap that snapped a 1-1 tie in the fourth inning. Setting up the hit were Jack Clark’s leadoff single, a walk to Andy Van Slyke and an Eckersley delivery that got inside and hit Mike Heath in the middle of the back to load the bases.
“You can’t expect to win when something like that happens,” said Eckersley in chastising himself for the walk to Van Slyke and the hit batsman.
“With Van Slyke, I was 1-2 and then I lost him. With Heath, I was 0-2 and I tried to come inside and the ball took off. I have no one to blame but myself, because otherwise I pitched good.”
Ownbey’s victory was his first in nearly three years, leaving him with a 3-8 career National League mark.
“It was 1980 before I began in this game, and now it’s 1986, so it really hasn’t been that long,” he said. “Call me a late bloomer, call me whatever you want, but I feel like I’m just at the beginning.”
St. Louis scored first when Vince Coleman walked to start the first inning, advanced two bases on grounders and made it home on Van Slyke’s single after Clark also walked.
The Cubs tied in the fourth when Manny Trillo and Ryne Sandberg each singled and Keith Moreland delivered a sacrifice fly. Trillo’s one-out single in the sixth and Jody Davis’s single after Leon Durham walked to start Chicago’s seventh were Chicago’s additional hits off Ownbey preceding Worrell’s appearance.
Worrell also walked Brian Dayett to load the bases with none out in the seventh but eventually bore down to get out of the inning with only one run on pinch-hitter Jerry Mumphrey’s sacrifice fly.
“We’re just not hitting; our pitching’s been good,” Chicago Manager Jim Frey said. “You can’t be getting eight walks and not scoring any more runs than we did today.”
An unearned run they scored in the bottom of the seventh off Cubs reliever Jay Baller without benefit of a hit helped the Cardinals secure Ownbey’s second victory as a major league starter and first overall since June 10, 1983 for the New York Mets in relief.
Frey said he had watched a younger Ownbey toil for the Mets when both were with that club, Frey as a coach and Ownbey as a raw talent.
“He was up and down, it seemed like, always trying to refine what he had,” Chicago’s pilot said. “His main problem then was lack of control. It looks like now he throws more off-speed than he did then.”
In addition to Ownbey’s deliveries, Worrell threw 60 pitches in helping St. Louis, which opened its season with a 2-1 verdict over the Cubs, improve its record to 2-0 for the first time since 1979.