Harrington Makes Highly-Anticipated Debut
By John Millea
May 26, 2001
ST. PAUL, MINN.--Before his first professional start, 19-year-old pitcher Matt Harrington had been living in Minnesota for only 15 days. While taking a crash course in Northern League baseball with the St. Paul Saints, there wasn't much time for him to see the Twin Cities sights. No trips to the Mall of America, no visits to the Metrodome to watch the Twins.
But one thing he saw plenty of before his debut was the ugly side of the upper midwest's tempestuous spring weather. A week before Harrington pro debut against the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks, the temperature was 94 degrees. But his debut was preceded by six days of rain and cold, making the Saints work out indoors. That turned out to be a nasty combination for the Palmdale, Calif., native when he made his first start on a rainy May 25 evening at Midway Stadium.
As soon as he began to loosen up, Harrington had a very bad feeling. "The cold conditions, the wet conditions. Me, period. It just wasn't right," Harrington said after an unremarkable two-inning performance. Slated to work four innings or throw 60 pitches -- whichever came first -- he had a 29-pitch first inning and was done after two.
"Nothing's been right this whole week," Harrington said. "I lost four days of throwing because of the weather, and tonight nothing changed. When you don't feel right, everything is affected."
He threw 48 pitches, 25 strikes, and left trailing 2-1. The Saints tied the score 2-2 on a fifth-inning home run by Noah Hall, and the game was suspended because of rain with two outs in the bottom of the fifth, to be resumed the next day.
Harrington's next starts were scheduled for May 30 at Sioux City and June 4 a Schaumburg, the day before the draft.
Scouts from 12 major league teams were in the stands to watch Harrington's debut. He was taken seventh overall by the Colorado Rockies in the 2000 draft but never signed a contract.
Harrington struggled on a sloppy mound, slipping badly on one pitch that would have sailed to the backstop if not for the quick feet of catcher Erik Metzger. Harrington and manager Doug Sisson were both happy with the teenager's mechanics, but his control was the problem.
Harrington looked good early. He retired the first two RedHawks quickly, throwing fastballs between 86-92 mph. But when he went to his curveball, he struggled to throw strikes.
After the two routine outs, Fargo-Moorhead scored a run on a six-pitch walk, a stolen base, a passed ball and a line-drive single by designated hitter Mark Burke. In the second inning, they scored on a leadoff single, a bunt single, a wild pitch and a groundout. When runners moved to second and third on the wild pitch, Harrington forgot to cover home plate as Metzger scrambled to the backstop.
The Saints bullpen was in motion before Harrington had gotten six outs. He did not come out for the third inning, relieved by Chris Swiatkiewicz.
Sisson wasn't discouraged.
"I think he did fine. I know he wasn't satisfied. But coming right out of high school, and facing a veteran lineup that's swinging wood bats, he did fine."
Harrington said he didn't want to make excuses, but he clearly was thrown off by the game conditions.
"I think I throw a lot better in a lot better conditions," he said. "You've got to remember, I'm from southern California. I'm not used to freezing cold weather in the baseball season."
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