CLEVELAND - Jair Jurrjens tried to look cool when he emerged from the clubhouse tunnel into the dugout at Jacobs Field on Tuesday night. The stands were packed, the joint was jumping, the lights shining down on this Tigers-Indians pennant race were very, very bright indeed.
Few, if any, of his new Detroit teammates may have known it, but the quiet, wide-eyed Jurrjens was attending just his second major league baseball game. Ever. When he walked to the mound to start last night's game, it was No. 3.
Talk about a newcomer in
every sense of the word.
Jurrjens is 21 years old and is from Curacao, a Caribbean island in the south, off the coast of Venezuela. There are no MLB franchises there. The islanders may not know Ryan Garko from Darko Milicic.
We assume Jurrjens did when he toed the rubber and became the latest Tiger farmhand to pass through the revolving door and be auditioned for the fifth spot in the rotation.
Andrew Miller made a similar leap right from Double-A, and showed promise. But he was starting to fray a bit and there was no real assurance he was going to stick before suffering a hamstring injury and going on the disabled list.
Two Mud Hens starters, Virgil Vasquez and Jordan Tata, had their chances, too.
Next up, out of the blue, was Jair (pronounced Jy-AIR)
Jurrjens, who was 7-5 with a 3.20 earned-run average at Erie.
"I have no idea what to expect from him; no clue," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said before last night's game. "He's a young kid with a good arm, but when guys like [Grady] Sizemore and [Travis] Hafner step in, I don't know what the heck's going to happen."
Jurrjens just hoped to stay calm, keep the Tigers in the game and see what happened. What happened was he left after seven innings and 104 pitches trailing 4-2 and the Indians won 5-2 to snap a four-game skid, split the short two-game series, and re-claim a tie for first place in the AL Central.
This was not the first time
Jurrjens faced major league hitting. He pitched in last year's World Baseball Classic. For whom? Well, Curacao is part of the Lesser Antilles which is part of the Netherlands Antilles which is part of The Netherlands. So that's who.
Last night's game was televised back to Curacao and the islanders, I imagine, would think the kid did OK. The first batter he faced, Kenny Lofton, took a called third strike on a fastball that said "96" on the speed gun. It was a vapor trail across the
Franklin Gutierrez touched Jurrjens for a two-run homer in the second inning. Hafner hit him hard a couple of times. Sizemore opened the sixth with a triple into the corner in right and scored. Hafner and Sizemore will do that to anybody.
All in all, the rookie was a cool customer considering he had two things going against him from the start - the slumping Indians hitters had to be excited about seeing fresh meat on the mound and Cleveland was countering with Fausto
Carmona, arguably the best pitcher on a staff that already has three at double figures in wins. He won his 14th game last night and dished out a career-high 10 strikeouts in eight
But the kid, Jurrjens, held his own. Leyland pumped his hand and thumped him on the shoulder repeatedly and appreciatively when he finished the seventh inning. The Tigers move on to Yankee Stadium and Jurrjens will make the trip. The Big Apple. Now, that'll broaden his exposure to life in the majors.