Orioles' Guthrie Is a Pleasant Surprise

By Adam Kilgore
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Jeremy Guthrie had burned out on baseball even before he went to Spain for two years in 1999. There, he didn't even think about the sport, let alone play it. Guthrie didn't believe baseball was his future when he became a Mormon missionary, and his two years away from the sport and the country cemented that.

One year pitching at Brigham Young left Guthrie with a sore arm and reason to begin thinking about a new career. He had been drafted by the New York Mets in high school, but to him that mattered little. When he returned home from his mission -- by far the best two years of his life, he said -- Guthrie considered his strong pitching arm part of the past.

But he was wrong. The time spent away on his mission led Guthrie back to baseball. He walked on at Stanford and was drafted after his junior season, but did not sign. He was drafted again after his senior season, in the first round by the Cleveland Indians. He languished four seasons in the minors, rarely receiving opportunities to prove himself in the majors.

He was buried under a gaggle of other Cleveland prospects until this offseason, when the Indians waived him and the Baltimore Orioles rescued him. For $20,000, the Orioles purchased perhaps baseball's best story this season, a revelation in an otherwise dreary Orioles campaign. From his difficult seasons with Cleveland to his stunning success now, Guthrie relied on perspective gained from his time in Spain.

"The focus for those two years was 100 percent on other people," Guthrie said. "Very little, if any, was upon myself for anything I may have needed. I think when you take the focus off yourself, you feel a gratitude and a happiness that's hard to achieve when you're thinking only about yourself and your problems and what you would like.

"My faith, it brings you back to point A each time. Whether I'm going well in baseball or pitching poorly, I try to get back to square one. Baseball is enjoyable, and it's my livelihood for now. But at the same time, it's not the be all, end all."

Since the Orioles inserted him into their rotation on May 8, Guthrie has made nine starts and has been arguably the American League's best starting pitcher. He leads the league in ERA (1.63), base runners allowed per nine innings (6.92) and innings pitched (66 1/3 , tied with C.C. Sabathia) since becoming a regular starter.

Guthrie has pitched at least seven innings in eight straight starts, never once allowing more than three runs. He hasn't lost since becoming a starter, throwing well enough to become a potential all-star as a 28-year-old rookie.

"We could have never predicted the level that he's pitched at," Orioles Vice President Jim Duquette said.

Guthrie never doubted the possibility of such results, no matter how improbable they seemed. "The ability was never a question to Jeremy," said Chad Guthrie, Jeremy's older brother.

But pressure and circumstances tore at him with Cleveland. He came to the Indians at roughly the same time as Cliff Lee, T.J. Sowers and Fausto Carmona, pitching prospects who eventually overtook him in the team's view. When Chad Guthrie spoke with Jeremy, he never broached baseball.

"He had enough pressure," he said. "I didn't want to bug him."

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