The two newest baseball players in town, Sammy Stewart and Joe Kucharski, barely lived up to their advance billing tonight.
But they still combined to pitch five shutout innings as their team, the Hagerstown Suns of the Class A Carolina League, beat the Durham Bulls, 6-3.
Stewart, sent here by the Baltimore Orioles on rehabilitative leave, reported that his ailing legs felt fine. And Kucharski, the Orioles' No. 1 draft choice, was the winning pitcher in his professional debut.
Stewart left with a 4-0 lead after three rocky innings in his first baseball game since the Orioles put him on the 21-day disabled list June 22.
Pitching before his wife, 12-day-old daughter and 4,110 fans, Stewart gave up three hits, including a double, in the first two innings. He settled down in the third and even struck out the last batter.
The Suns average about 1,600 fans a game, although they once drew 6,008 for a children's promotion.
Kucharski took over in the fourth. The Clinton, Md., resident started awkwardly, giving up a hit, then walking the bases loaded.
But the hard-throwing Kucharski got out of the difficulty, retired the Bulls in order in the fifth and left with the 4-0 lead intact. Kucharski, who had not pitched since the College World Series last month, was on the same pitch limit as Stewart--50 pitches or three innings.
Though he threw only 33 pitches--22 strikes and 11 balls--Stewart was hit hard by nearly every batter. Still, he was satisfied.
"I did everything normal tonight," he said. "Even though these guys are supposed to be minor leaguers, I don't know how to do anything except give 100 percent." His fast ball was clocked at 89 mph tonight.
"I was trying to throw the ball over the plate, so maybe that's why they were sticking it pretty good in the early innings.
Stewart, 28, said he thinks the leg pain is gone.
"When it got real bad in Cleveland, I got scared, because I knew there was no way I was going to be able to compete the way I wanted with that kind of pain. But now I know that after Sunday I'll be ready to go."
The next test in Stewart's mini-comeback will be Sunday when the Suns play in Winston-Salem, N.C., near Stewart's home town of Swannanoa, N.C. He will throw six innings and then, if his recovery continues, rejoin the Orioles after Tuesday's All-Star game.
From the moment he arrived in Municipal Stadium about 40 minutes before the game, Stewart was a hit. Between innings, he played with the Suns' mascot, Stuffy Duck, and after he left the mound, he was called out of the dugout for a standing ovation.
"I didn't mind coming down here to pitch things out," he said. "All these guys were real loose. They didn't mind me. They were even making fun of me for getting shelled and getting a standing ovation," Stewart said.
Kucharski said he didn't mind riding Stewart's coattails to his first professional victory. The 6-foot-3, 230-pounder usually throws about 95 mph but tonight was clocked at 87.