When Howard University's ace pitcher, Gene Fleet, strolled off the mound at American University in the eighth inning of yesterday's game, he casually turned to a teammate and asked, "What time is it? We have to get back to eat. You know we have another game to play."
The fire-balling, poised left-hander used only nine more pitchers to mow down the Eagles' third, fourth and fifth batters to send Howard to dinner and its sixth victory, 6-4, in eight games.
The Bison played Rhode Island College in the second hald of a day-night doubleneader.
Fleet won his third decision in four outings, but it was not a typical performance.
The 6-foot, 170-pounder earned a page in Howard's sports hall of fame earlier this month when he threw back-to-back nohitters during the team's baseball swing through the South.
Fleet got Howard off to a fine start with a no-hit 13-1 victory over Morehouse in its opener. The junior walked four.
Four days later, the former Gwynn Park High School star no-hit Florida International, 3-2,.
"It wasn't one of my better games," said the 20-year-old Fleet. "I walked 13 men that game but I picked off six of them."
Fleet's best showing thus far came in a 4-1 loss to Jacksonville, he said. His fast ball was hopping as he surrendered only five hits and allowed two earned runs in going the distance.
"Right now, he's the ace of the staff," said Howard coach Chuck Hinton. "When he came here he was just rearing back and throwing. He's beginning to learn to pitch now! He worked hard and you can see the improvement.
Hinton, a former Washington Senator outfielder, is not the only knowledgeable person singing the praises of Fleet.
"He has a good fast ball, curve and pickoff moves to the bases," said Dick Bowie, a longtime scout for the Baltimore Orioles. "I remember him from high school. He's just a junior but he'll probably be drafted. I think he definitely has a shot at the pros."
The quiet, unassuming Fleet, who says, "I can stand beside the top basketball and football players on campus and no one would know who I was," is anxious for a shot at the major leagues.
"Sure, I'd love to play major league baseball," said Fleet, his boyish face lighting up. "But if I don't, I plan to graduate and teach or coach somewhere. I can accept not being good enough to play in the majors, but I plan to try."
Since Fleet picked up a baseball in the dusty fields of Brandywine, he has been throwing blue darts, many across the plate, others over the fence.
In his three years at Gwynn park, he was 23-9 and struck out 349 batters and walked 110. He threw four no-hitters, one of them a perfect game, and dozens of one two or three hitters.
As a Howard freshman he won four of seven decisions. Last season he pitched 74 2/3 innings, gave up 25 earned runs, walked 17, surprisingly eniugh struck out only 10 and recorded a 5-5 mark.
"Gene has to be hiswon pitching coach for the most part," said Hinton. "In order to get a shot at the pros, he knows he needs to cut down on his walks and polish his skills. He trows it hard enough, that's for sure."
Despite the chilly, windy condition yesterday at American, Fleet's fast ball hopped and dipped enough to keep the Eagle batters off balance.
Aside from a Tom Dillinger home run, very few of the other AU batters managed a solid crack off the fireballer. said Fleet. "He hit it pretty good."
As the game got tighter, Fleet bore down and seemed to get stronger. He fanned six batters in the last four innings while allowing only two singles. "It was a little cold out here and it was hard to get loose," said Fleet.