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Wildly effective, Loewen kick-starts Canadian upset

by Alan Schwarz
March 8, 2006

PHOENIX--When Team USA center fielder Vernon Wells was asked what he knew about Canada starter Adam Loewen hours before yesterday's game, you might as well have asked him the square root of 892.

"He's tall," Wells said. "He throws a baseball. And he's Canadian."

Nine innings later, it's safe to say that every United States hitter knows exactly who Adam Loewen is.

After never having pitched above Class A, the lefthanded Loewen threw 3 2/3 shutout innings to kick-start Canada's 8-6 shocking upset of the United States. On a day when outpitching 22-game winner Dontrelle Willis wasn't saying much--Willis was battered for six hits and five earned runs before getting yanked in the third--Loewen's 91-mph fastball, while not well-commanded, kept the powerful U.S. lineup in check and underscored why he is considered one of the best lefthanded pitching prospects in baseball.

"It will give me a lot confidence," said Loewen, expected to pitch for the Orioles' Double-A Bowie affiliate this year. "I just faced the best hitters in the world and I did pretty good against them."

Said Team USA manager Buck Martinez, "We knew that he had that cutter--he got it in on the hands. He pitched a heck of a game, and he showed a lot of composure for a guy that hasn't pitched above A-ball."

As he has in his two professional seasons since signing in 2003, Loewen did stumble with his command, particularly early. After yielding a one-out bloop single to Derek Jeter in the bottom of the first, Loewen walked Ken Griffey Jr. and Derrek Lee to load the bases for Chipper Jones, and bring Canada manager Ernie Whitt out to the mound to calm down his 21-year-old starter making, he said afterward, "the most nerve-wracking start I ever had."

Despite Loewen's wildness, Jones jumped on the first pitch and grounded into an inning-ending double play. Canada kept its 1-0 lead, and Loewen regained his composure.

"It was pretty overwhelming--three guys on and an all-star caliber hitter at the plate," said Loewen, the highest-drafted Canadian ever. "You can't really pitch around anybody on that team because another future Hall of Famer is going to be up at the plate. So I had to make the best pitches I possibly could and hope for the best. It set the tone for the next couple of innings. I felt more comfortable out there."

Loewen was able to get outs despite often working behind in the count. Several U.S. hitters took big swings on 2-0 fastballs but either missed or didn't hit the ball squarely, a testament to the life on Loewen's pitches.

Loewen ran into some trouble in the fourth inning, walking Wells after an error by shortstop Pete Orr to put runners on first and second with one out. He fell behind Jason Varitek 2-0 before he got a called strike and then a deep fly to right field that stayed in the park.

Loewen could have faced Matt Holliday to finish the inning--he had thrown 60 pitches, five under the limit that pitchers are allowed to pass on a final batter--but Whitt said he removed him for competitive reasons, not because of the limit. Loewen walked off the mound to a smattering of cheers from the Chase Field crowd and a round of high-fives in the Canada dugout.

"I get behind a lot, and walk a lot of guys," said Loewen, who because he signed a major league deal in 2003 is probably entering his last season in the minors. "That's the way I pitch--I'm a power pitcher, I have a lot of movement and it's tough controlling it sometimes. So when I get behind in the count I try to bear down and try to make quality pitches. I should probably do that earlier in the count. But sometimes you get yourself in those situations and focus on the task at hand."

Ironically, Whitt's original plan was not to start Loewen against the United States, but against South Africa on Tuesday. But when Japan finished second to South Korea in the Asian pool last week, his plan changed. Figuring his Canada team would qualify for the second round only as the runner-up to the United States, making their opening second-round game against (now) Japan, Whitt juggled his rotation to leave Eric Bedard to face the Japanese.

So much for his best-laid plans. If Canada beats Mexico Thursday night behind starter Jeff Francis, it not only will advance to the second round, but do so as the Pool B winner and not face Japan until Game Two of the next round. Then again, the pitcher who would now pitch that game is Loewen, his only starter with no major league experience, the kid who just shut down the big, bad Americans.

"What organization is he with?" Jeter asked afterward, betraying his complete ignorance of Adam Loewen to that point. Told Loewen belongs to the Orioles, Jeter's eyes widened. "I'm sure," Jeter said, "I'll be seeing a lot of him."

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