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Decision to Wait Year for Pros Proves Painful : Line Drive Shatters the Face of Pepperdine Hurler, but He's on the Way Back

April 30, 1987|IRENE GARCIA | Times Staff Writer

It's been painful for Pepperdine pitcher Tony Lewis to stay in college for another year rather than play professional ball.

Lewis, last year's All-West Coast Athletic Conference pitcher with a 10-3 record and 2.49 earned-run average, turned down the Toronto Blue Jays because he thought another year in school would help him.

"I was drafted kind of low anyway, but mainly I thought that another good throwing year here and completing an education could help me in the long run."

Instead, it hurt him. It wasn't the the education or the extra year to prepare his arm for major league pitching that caused him pain, but the line drive that smacked him in the face during the second game of the season in February.

"Sometimes I think that if I (had) signed (with Toronto) I wouldn't have gotten hurt," Lewis said.

The 6-4, 215-pound right-hander had won his first game against UCLA, ranked second nationally, and was on a roll against USC with two outs in the ninth inning when a Trojan hit a line drive that ended up in Lewis' face.

"I pitched a fastball down the middle of the plate and the next thing I knew I was on the ground. I knew it was serious."

The hit crushed many bones in the right side of Lewis' face, including his eye socket.

It required extensive surgery and put him out of action for four weeks.

"The surgery wasn't too bad," pitching coach Jim Gattis said. "The biggest problem was that after the pain and swelling were gone he still couldn't run or exercise because the stitches were on his face. That was hard for him.

"Then when he started up again, he couldn't throw without great pain in his arm."

Physical pain brought frustration. All he could do was sit in the dugout and watch.

"I hated it," he said. "This (baseball) is my life right now and I knew I couldn't do anything to help the team. It was terrible."

"He was definitely to be our leader this year," Gattis said. "He's a cross between finesse and power and he can locate his pitches.

"But it's not like he can't come back. He can still resume the role of leader and lead us to the regional tournament."

Lewis' absence at least gave Craig Stiveson and Scott Singelyn the opportunity to pitch, and they have kept the team ranked fifth nationally by Baseball America with a 28-8-3 record, 10-0 in the WCAC.

"They're only freshman and it's been a good experience for them to start," said Coach Dave Gorrie. "They've done very well."

Still, the Waves had to go minus their ace for the first half of the season.

Lewis was expected to bring back his all-conference talent and league-leading ERA. This was the man who pitched 14.1 innings at the NCAA Central Regionals last year with a 1.26 ERA.

He set a Pepperdine record by striking out 13 in a seven-inning game against U.S. International in May and earned a 2-1 victory over Loyola Marymount last season when the Lions were the top-ranked team in the nation.

"He's just a great combination pitcher," Gorrie said. "He's no Nolan Ryan, but he throws hard and he's a bulldog."

The 21-year-old was a heavily recruited high school star in Chicago at St. Laurence High. He ended with a 22-2 record. Several Big 10 and Big 8 schools were interested in him.

"I'm glad I ended up in California," he said, praising the Malibu sun. "You can't beat it. If a guy wants to play pro ball, this is the place to play in."

Lewis remembers the dreadful winters in Chicago when the team had to work out indoors: "It just wasn't the same. We had to go inside because of the snow, and when hitters are inside it's different."

It's also different for Lewis to start pitching in the middle of April when everyone else started in February. Though he had a hard time dealing with a lost first half of the season, he accepts it.

"I just have to deal with the fact. I know at first I'll be tense, but I'll just have to get comfortable on the mound again."

But after sitting out 25 games, Lewis looked comfortable during his first game. He proved what he knew all along: that he would come back and pitch well.

"He made no bones about it," Gorrie said. "From the beginning he said he was going to come back--and he will."

Lewis improved his record to 2-1 when Pepperdine shut out Cal Lutheran, 10-0, at Eddy D. Field Stadium.

The determined pitcher started the game and threw four innings, giving up one hit and no runs while striking out three.

"His was the kind of injury that you either do or don't come back from," Gattis said. "There is no in-between and he's a pretty tough kid, so he will come back.

"He'll definitely become our best pitcher down the stretch. He's the ace of our staff."

Lewis wants to be strong in the regionals and be drafted by the pros.

"I've always loved this game," he said. "I just want to help this team win many games and help go to the regionals and possibly the World Series.

"And after that maybe I'll make the big leagues. I don't care which team, I just want to play."

Meanwhile, it's as though nothing happened. Lewis will take over again as the top Waves pitcher and doesn't have the slightest scar on his face.

"Just wait, I'll be back," he said with a big smile on his face.

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