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Friday, July 02, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
Steve Kelley / Times staff columnist
This wasn't the way Travis Blackley had played out the scene in his daydreams. His version was more like the movies, maybe "Bull Durham" meets "The Natural."
His minor-league manager calls him into the tiny cinder-blocked office, slaps him on the back and says, "Kid, you're going to the bigs."
Music booms in the clubhouse. Teammates gather around him offering hugs and harassment as he stuffs his valuables into a duffel bag. And, when he walks outside to sign his final autographs as a minor-leaguer, the sun is shining and the world looks as bright as his future.
Or something like that.
Instead, Blackley was home watching television. Watching, in fact, Mariners manager Bob Melvin talking about the team's pitching on the "Northwest Sports Report" when the phone rang at 10:30 Wednesday night.
It was Melvin.
"I have a proposition for you," Melvin said. "How would you like to pitch for me tomorrow?"
"As calmly as I could," Blackley said, "I said, 'Sure.' "
It was a rhetorical question. Melvin had already planned for Blackley's debut. There were no second thoughts. Blackley was pitching yesterday afternoon against the lethal-weapon lineup of the Texas Rangers.
"He's a kid everybody in Seattle has been waiting to look at," Melvin said. "He's the crown jewel everybody's heard of."
His girlfriend's Yorkshire terrier, Hefner, barked through the night as if he knew something was up. And Blackley's adrenaline ran like whitewater. He slept maybe three hours.
Then at 1:40 yesterday afternoon, he struck out leadoff hitter Eric Young with a chin-high 88-mph fastball.
"A sign of things to come," Melvin said.
The first inning of Blackley's major-league life went three up and three down, a first-inning occurrence almost as rare at Safeco Field this season as a rain delay.
For the first 22 hitters, the first 5-2/3 innings, Blackley couldn't have scripted a much better debut.
"I went as good as I could with what I had and it happened to work," Blackley said.
The Mariners hitters scalded line drives into the yawning gaps in the Texas outfield as if they finally were following the team's January blueprint. They batted around in the first, giving Blackley the sweet luxury of a 3-0 lead.
"I was in the dugout thinking, 'Keep 'em coming, mateys. Keep 'em coming,' " Blackley said.
His fastball was moving. His slider exploded at the plate. His changeup had the Rangers lunging like fencers. Up, down, inside corner, then out, Blackley, under the capable direction of catcher Pat Borders, pitched like he belonged.
He retired nine of the first 10 Rangers he faced and didn't give up his first hit until the fourth. He pitched out of a bases-loaded jam that inning, allowing only one run and coaxing a no-out, 6-4-3 double play out of Mark Teixeira. And he got out of a two-on, no-out mess in the fifth.
Blackley didn't spin the numbers on the Jugs gun like a Ferrari in a school zone. That's not his style. He's a left-handed illusionist in Jamie Moyer's mold.
And he was one pitch away from a first-time gem, but Kevin Mench followed an infield single by Teixeira and a bloop hit by Hank Blalock with a 402-foot, three-run home run to left.
"One of the few mistakes he made," Melvin said.
Travis Blackley, who at 21 is the youngest M's player to make his debut since Gil Meche arrived in 1999, gave up four runs on six hits in the 8-4 win. He walked three and struck out four.
The numbers are deceiving. He was better than that. He was composed and confident and about a year ahead of schedule.
"I was probably thinking of (being recalled in) September," Blackley said. "But in spring training I felt comfortable and I did well there. I knew that if I put up some good numbers in Triple-A (Tacoma) I might get lucky. It just happened to work out.
"I knew I had to grow up, but it's hard to just say, 'I've got to grow up,' because you don't know how to. All my career I've always been the youngest guy on the team, and it's been hard. The guys are always on your back a lot more. It just took a lot of thick skin really to grow up more. You can't get aggravated with people who are giving you a hard time. You just have to hang with it and take it on the chin."
After Mench's home run, Melvin came to get his starter and, even before Blackley left the mound, the crowd began to stand and cheer him.
"I didn't know what to do with that," Blackley said. "I never had one of them (standing ovation) before. I'd always known that the Seattle fans loved the Mariners. They love to see anybody come in and do good. That was a great feeling.
"I was a bit disappointed that I couldn't get out of that inning, but at the same time, well, it's a bit hard to describe how I felt. Maybe tomorrow I'll get able to."
There will be hundreds of tomorrows in Blackley's baseball future. Yesterday he answered the first of many calls from Bob Melvin.
Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or email@example.com
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