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But Quilici underestimated the quality and accuracy of the Clyde fastball. He throws what the Ranger pitching coach, Chuck Estrada, defines as "easy heat," which is to say it comes suddenly to the hitter after a deceptively relaxed wind-up. At his age, Clyde does not throw with the power of such renowned fireballers as Nolan Ryan or Sam McDowell, but his pitch is constantly on the move. So is his curveball, although on this night it was moving out of the strike zone.
More at issue after the first two walks was Clyde's fortitude. Would he come apart after such an unpromising beginning? No, he would not. He struck out Darwin. He struck out George Mitterwald. He struck out Joe Lis. The fans were jubilant. They were seeing the new Koufax! (The old Koufax made his first big-league start at 19, walking eight and not surviving five innings against Pittsburgh.)
Clyde nearly came a cropper in the second inning, however, when he walked four batters and tossed a home-run ball to Mike Adams, a .105 hitter. He would have been much more harshly abused had not Ranger Catcher Ken Suarez thrown out two of the walkees attempting to steal second. But from then on, he was in control. He retired the side seriatim in both the third and fourth innings. It had been announced on the public address system that the fifth inning would be Clyde's final one, and when he emerged from it unscathed he was favored with a rousing minutes-long standing ovation.
The most demonstrative of all were Bob Short, who had gambled and, for once, won, and Whitey Herzog, who had dark suspicions before the game that the gamble would fail. These two, owner and manager, had held divergent theories about the wisdom of starting a boy pitcher in a major league game without some ego-boosting experience in the bushes.
Herzog, a plainspoken man who spent five years in the minors before he was retained on a big-league roster, had argued, however feebly, the negative. He has, he said, seen too many young pitchers ruined by being asked to do too much too soon. He yet retains such concerns about Clyde.
"I've got nothing to do with it," he said in his office before the game, "but if I was the director of player personnel here, as I was with the Mets, I tell you I'd be raising hell about this. A young pitcher in his first year should be out where he can dominate. Look at Pete Broberg and Steve Dunning on our staff. Both of them tried to become big-league pitchers before they were ready. A kid takes a shellacking or two and his confidence suffers. But I'll say this, Clyde does have confidence. He doesn't think he shouldn't be here."
Short, who may be baseball's least effective wheeler-dealer, sees in Clyde hope for the future, both immediate and distant. Short could use some luck. When he was operating his franchise in Washington, he gambled that the litigious Curt Flood could return triumphantly to the game he was suing. Short lost. He gambled again that Denny McLain could regain his 31-win form. Well, you can't win 'em all. He gambled that Ted Williams could be as successful at managing as he was at playing. Maybe next time. And finally, after a protracted brouhaha, he moved his team out of Washington to Arlington in the hope that Texans would find it deep in their hearts to support him. Because of an attractive stadium rental agreement—he pays only a dollar a year up to a million attendance—he should not lose money in Arlington but, before Clyde, his athletes had repelled the fans.
On the afternoon of David Clyde Night, Short had occasion to reflect on his life as the proprietor of a loser. His face, scarlet from hours at poolside under the pitiless Texas sun, clouded over as the old failures paraded past him in retrospect.
"After the assortment of genuinely rotten things that have happened to me," he said, ignoring his own not inconsiderable role in the various calamities, "something's gotta work. Maybe Clyde is it."
Still, when it was announced that the young pitcher would be thrust into the breach without benefit of minor league tutoring, Short was criticized in some knowledgeable circles as an exploiter. He fairly bristled at the mention of so merciless a judgment.