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Debut Gives Tigers Taste of Success

Baseball: Detroit capitalizes on Bernero's unlikely journey to the big leagues with a 6-3 victory over Angels.

August 02, 2000|TIM BROWN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Some days, the better story isn't your own.

And, as the Angels well know, sometimes there's just no fighting fate.

On the occasion of longshot pitcher Adam Bernero's arrival in the big leagues, an ascent so rapid you could still smell the Grand Slam breakfast on his breath, the Detroit Tigers defeated the Angels, 6-3, before 19,104 Tuesday night at Edison Field.

The Tigers scored four runs in the seventh inning against three Angel pitchers, breaking a 2-2 tie. Right-hander Brian Cooper (4-6) allowed five runs in 6 1/3 innings.

In the seventh, when the nine Tigers came to the plate, Damion Easley and Bobby Higginson had run-scoring hits and Dean Palmer added a two-out, two-run double.

Those runs wiped out an Angel rally that came arduously against Bernero, and put the Tigers far enough ahead so that Scott Spiezio's daily late home run--this one in the eighth inning--was not enough.

Tiger reliever Nelson Cruz (4-0) won in relief of Bernero, and Todd Jones got the save after he spectacularly blew a chance the previous night. However, it was Bernero, who gave up two runs in 5 1/3 innings, and his curious journey that were so enthralling.

Bernero's professional career began 14 months ago at a Denny's restaurant near Armstrong State College in Savannah, Ga.

In the hours after his senior season, Bernero signed a paper napkin that made him Tiger property for $8,000. According to legend, Tiger scout Jeff Wetherby tracked Bernero to the local Denny's, only to find himself without an official contract.

In a story that rings of the days before major league baseball instituted its draft, the Tigers signed Bernero just ahead of the Atlanta Braves, who apparently failed to locate the proper full-service diner.

Bernero, a 6-foot-4 right-hander, pitched last season in Class-A West Michigan. This season he was 2-5 in double-A Jacksonville and 3-1 in triple-A Toledo.

His 33rd professional start landed him in Anaheim, where in his big league debut he threw fastballs past a collection of some of baseball's best hitters. He teased them with his changeup and tricked them with his splitter.

He struck out the very first major league hitter, Darin Erstad, with an 82-mph changeup. In consecutive at-bats, Tim Salmon struck out on a 93-mph fastball and on a 75-mph changeup. After the second, in the fourth inning, Salmon sniped at plate umpire Bill Miller on his way to the dugout. The strikeout pitch looked inches inside, and so Bernero, 23, got some calls too.

Bernero typically stuck to his changeup against the left-handed hitters and his splitter against the righties, but he shuffled those too. He had five strikeouts through five innings, through which he allowed a two-out double to rookie Bengie Molina in the second and a leadoff single to rookie Adam Kennedy in the third.

The Angels did not score in the third inning, despite having their first two batters reach base. Kennedy stole second base and Kevin Stocker, the No. 9 hitter, walked. Erstad hooked an off-speed pitch to the right side and both runners advanced on the out.

Spiezio, who won Monday night's game with a ninth-inning home run and was rewarded with a start at third base, then ripped a sinking line drive to right field. Juan Gonzalez rushed in and appeared to trap the ball. First base umpire Jerry Meals raised a hand over his head, however, to signal the out.

Perhaps torn between the umpire's call and what he believed he saw, Kennedy hesitated between third base and home, then chose to race to the plate. Angel Manager Mike Scioscia argued the call, but the Tigers were awarded the double play on the catch and the appeal at third base.

Bernero recorded nine consecutive outs until Stocker hit the first pitch of the sixth inning into center field for a single.

*

* CLOSE, BUT . . .

Oriole Mike Mussina settles for a one-hitter with 15 strikeouts against the Twins after losing no-hit bid in seventh. Page 4

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