Mock Experiences Up-and-Down Day

By Chico Harlan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 9, 2008

Garrett Mock's first experience in the major leagues started with a discussion about how it would end. About how he would be sent back down to Class AAA Columbus some 19 hours after the Washington Nationals recalled him, no matter what happened in the time in between.

When he arrived in the Nationals Park clubhouse yesterday, three hats and a fresh uniform -- No. 50 -- hung in greeting. These were his, but just for the moment. Following the game, after all, the team would swap him for today's starter, another Columbus pitcher, Tyler Clippard.

Knowing he would soon lose his standing as a major leaguer, Mock took the mound and simply tried not to lose his grip on a baseball game. For five innings, he tempted danger. And finally, he let it creep too close. His failure to finish the fifth provided the San Francisco Giants a 6-3 win, left Mock with a loss and meant that in the end, the inability to hang on was the theme not just to a weekend, but a game.

"He just completely ran out of gas in the fifth," Manager Manny Acta said of the inning in which San Francisco scored four runs. "He had the bottom of the order, and he just couldn't get through it. He just hit a wall there."

Then again, Mock faced an endpoint from the moment his time in Washington began. He had arrived in town Saturday afternoon, but stayed away from the ballpark for that night's game. Only after the evening loss did Washington announce the transaction, corresponding with Rob Mackowiak's release.

So, yesterday morning was for all the firsts, all the hellos. Sure, Mock had impressed during spring training; he had even pitched during the Nationals' exhibition game at Nationals Park against Baltimore. But this felt different. "Since I became a professional," he said, "this is what I wanted to do."

Those around Mock, 25, tried to keep the task simple, even light-hearted. Acta reminded the right-hander that in the big leagues, batters still run to first, not third, after contact. "It's the same type of game," Acta said. "Go get 'em."

General Manager Jim Bowden, who had acquired Mock and fellow pitcher Matt Chico from Arizona in a 2006 trade for Liván Hernández, spoke for several minutes pregame with his hired starter. This was a one-time fill-in for ailing lefty Odalis Pérez, and nothing would change that.

"If you throw a perfect game we're going to option you out after the game," Bowden recalled saying.

Mock offered a counter-proposal. If he threw a perfect game, homered off San Francisco starter Barry Zito and laid down a sacrifice bunt, perhaps he could stay.

No deal, Bowden said, "I'm going to still option you out, but I promise to recall you."

The Nationals, losers in seven of their last eight games, endowed their starter with some rare help -- three early runs. Lastings Milledge hit his fourth home run in the first, smoking a Zito fastball into the visitors' bullpen in left. A bases-loaded sacrifice fly by Wil Nieves in the fourth lifted Washington to a 3-0 lead and stretched Mock's chances for a win.

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