CHICAGO -- Mark Prior pitched as if he'd been around all season. His fastball was buzzing, his curveball was dipping across the plate and batters were
having difficulty getting hits.
After two months on the disabled list, Prior's season debut was a huge success. But even his sterling six-inning performance Friday couldn't carry the
struggling Chicago Cubs to a victory.
"It felt good to be out there. I'm not going to lie. I had some anxiety going and probably a little nervousness going into it," Prior said after
allowing just two hits and getting a no-decision as the Pittsburgh Pirates rallied past the Cubs 2-1.
"I think I got a little gassed right there at the end, the last two or three hitters," Prior said of his 85-pitch performance, 55 for strikes.
Prior walked none, struck out eight and showed no signs of the Achilles' tendon and elbow soreness that kept him out of the rotation.
"You can't duplicate the intensity and the adrenalin you get at this level," Prior said.
"I doesn't matter how many rehab starts you have. I was probably a little drained because of the excitement of pitching in a big league game."
The Pirates took some of the excitement of the day away when they rallied for two runs in the ninth.
Jack Wilson doubled off Joe Borowski (2-4) and scored on Craig Wilson's two-out single to tie it. Pinch-hitter Chris Stynes then hit a go-ahead single
off Mike Remlinger.
"Any time you're facing Prior, you know it's going to be tough," Jack Wilson said. "He had his stuff on, he was throwing hard. He's only going to get
Salomon Torres (4-1) got the win and Jose Mesa pitched the ninth for his 14th save as the Pirates ended a five-game losing streak.
"To come in against Prior -- that's going to be tough from the first pitch. We definitely needed this win after dropping five in a row," Wilson said.
Jose Macias doubled to lead off the bottom of the ninth and reached third before Mesa retired the final two batters.
With his socks pulled up high, Prior retired leadoff hitter Jason Kendall on a grounder on his first pitch and threw only five more to get out of the
His fastball hitting the mid 90s mph, Prior retired the first 13 batters before Rob Mackowiak singled to center with one out in the fifth.
Mackowiak stole second and looked on his way to breaking a scoreless tie when Tike Redman singled to left. But Moises Alou made a perfect throw to
catcher Michael Barrett, who held on for the out despite a jarring collision with Mackowiak.
Pirates starter Josh Fogg was just as good, allowing just four hits in seven innings.
Fogg, facing the Cubs for the fourth time this season, pitched out of a bases-loaded jam in the sixth by striking out Todd Hollandsworth and getting
Barrett on a fly ball.
Alou doubled with two outs in the eighth off Brian Meadows and after Aramis Ramirez was walked intentionally, Hollandsworth greeted John Grabow with a
single to give the Cubs a 1-0 lead.
Alou made a great catch on Kendall's liner to start the ninth, ending the Pirates catcher's hitting streak at 20 games.
Prior's return was the talk of Chicago since he came down with his injuries in spring training. His teammates were as excited as anyone watching him
pitch at Wrigley for the first time since he lost Game 6 of the NL Championship Series last year.
"There was a lot of energy because Mark was pitching," Cubs manager Dusty Baker said.
As Prior was finishing his bullpen warmups before Friday's game, a crowd of four Cubs, including reliever Francis Beltran, watched his pitches as they
reached the plate. Once Prior finished, they extended high-fives before he headed for the dugout.
Prior caused a stir the night before his season debut when he left an autograph session at a suburban store earlier than expected, disappointing some
fans and the store owner.
Prior spent 15 minutes during his postgame news conference explaining his side of the controversy, saying he went to sign autographs only to find out
he was being asked to meet and greet fans and pose for pictures the night before he was supposed to pitch. It was a commitment he made months ago.
"It's been an interesting 24 hours for myself," he said. "I'm very happy it's over. I'm very disappointed we didn't pull this one out."
[Edited on 6/5/2004 by Ben]