Chicago Cubs left-hander Steve Trout entered this season with a lifetime record of 47 victories and 54 defeats. And he entered it with a reputation as a flake, a troublemaker and a pitcher who couldn't keep his mind on the game.
"Billy Connors (the Cubs' pitching coach) told me, 'If we can ever control this guy's talent, we'll have a big winner,' " Manager Jim Frey said.
Today, Trout controlled himself and the San Diego Padres en route to a 4-2 victory that gave the Cubs a 2-0 lead in the National League championship series.
"I don't know if this was the biggest game I ever pitched," Trout said, "but I consider it one of the biggest I have ever pitched. It was important that we go to San Diego 2-0 and not 1-1 and I wanted to do my part."
"This may have been the largest, most important game he ever pitched," Frey said. "Late in the season when we were struggling, he pitched some good games for us. He is an excellent guy to pitch here in this park. He does not let many balls get up in the air."
Connors said, "He's arrived. He's gotten control of himself. He's matured this year. Before, he was a little kid who lived in a fantasy world, doing things he couldn't do."
Trout has been Connors' personal reclamation project this year.
"I talked to him every inning today," Connors said. "I told him, 'You're all right. Throw strikes, stay within yourself.'
"He responded great."
"I wanted to stay within myself," Trout said. "I felt that I wasn't overthrowing today until maybe the seventh inning. In my last few days I got a lot of ground balls and I wanted to keep that."
He did. There were 17 ground-ball outs by the Padres today.
"That's the way that he can pitch," second baseman Ryne Sandberg said. "He has to think about getting ground balls, and he did."
Shortstop Larry Bowa echoed Sandberg's feelings. "Trout has really matured. He's really in control of himself," he said. "I could tell he was on early. You usually can by the ground balls."
In the past, questionable ball/strike calls would have unnerved Trout. The presence of substitute umpire Dave Slickenmeyer behind home plate might have upset the old Trout. It didn't bother the new one.
"I thought the umpire was pretty consistent," Trout said. "There were no bad calls as far as I was concerned. My ball moved so much I know I am going to lose a few pitches, but this ump was as consistent as any I saw this year."
While Trout was shutting down the Padres, the Cubs' center fielder, Bob Dernier, was running them down. His base running set the tone early.
In the first inning, Dernier led off with a single. With Sandberg batting, Dernier broke for second. Sandberg hit a bouncer to third baseman Luis Salazar, who threw out Sandberg at first. Dernier never broke stride rounding second and easily beat Steve Garvey's throw back to third. Dernier scored on Gary Matthews' grounder to deep short.
In the fourth, he stole second after reaching on a fielder's choice and scored on Sandberg's double into the left field corner.
"I had a good head of steam," Dernier said of his first-inning gamble. "As I made the turn at second, I looked at him (Salazar). I knew if he was looking at me, he wouldn't get Sandberg."
"He did that on his own," the Cubs' third base coach, Don Zimmer, said. "That set the tone; it does something for our club."