His first days of the major league dream did not last long. Steve Schmoll made the roster of the Los Angeles Dodgers because a Cy Young Award winner was injured. That does not bode well for a sustained big league run, especially when it's the start of just your second professional season.

And even though Schmoll earned a save in the first week of the season, the run soon ended for the onetime catcher from Rockville who made himself into a pitching star at the University of Maryland. He went back to the minor leagues.

Perhaps that would have been the end for Schmoll's Dodger hopes, at least this year. But Eric Gagne got hurt again and there Schmoll was yesterday, back visiting his parents, sister and girlfriend before heading to RFK Stadium a major leaguer again. Last night, he pitched in his home town, giving up two runs in two-thirds of an inning against the Washington Nationals.

"I didn't see going to the minors as being a negative thing; I looked at it as a positive thing," he said. "I was getting to pitch, whether it was Dodger Stadium or Cashman Field in Las Vegas or even [Class AA] Jacksonville. I just love to play baseball."

That Schmoll has made it this far this quickly is amazing. Pitchers rarely jump from college to the big leagues in less than two seasons. And they are certainly never catchers who were cut from their freshman team in college.

Schmoll was going nowhere at Maryland until he gave pitching a try. That got him his first dream, a place on the Terrapins' team. But after three years he had a 6-17 record and a 6.73 ERA. That's when the coaches saw him fooling around with a sidearm delivery one day. They wondered if he could try it in a game.

And an average college pitcher became a gem. By year's end he led the ACC with 124 strikeouts and the catcher who couldn't make his college roster was suddenly in demand. Making things better was a rarely used rule that says a five-year college player who had not been drafted twice by big league teams while in school could become a free agent upon graduation. Schmoll cut a deal with the Dodgers. Within months he was flying through their system.

"You want to make [it to the majors] quicker than longer but you would also want it to last much longer," he said yesterday as he sat in the Dodgers' clubhouse. "I learned a lot of things when I went back to AAA."

Schmoll is pitching well, with a 2-0 record and a 4.21 ERA in 26 appearances. Not bad for a 25-year-old pitcher with only 1211/3 innings in the minors before this year.

"When I first came up I felt if I could make the pitches I could get major league hitters out," Schmoll said. "Mechanically I felt like I was inconsistent. It didn't matter where I started the year, I didn't feel as consistent as I could be."

Now he is. And yesterday he came home living his dream.