Junge had friends with him for 1st win

Posted: September 15, 2002

Eric Junge wiped the celebratory shaving-cream pie off his face as he walked into the Phillies' clubhouse last night after the emotional first victory of his major-league career.

It was emotional not so much because it was his initial win, but because of the three names written in a black marker atop his baseball cap. They were the names of his three friends who died in the terrorist attack on New York City last Sept. 11.

"They were with me tonight, helping me stay focused," said Junge after pitching five innings as the Phillies beat the Pittsburgh Pirates, 4-1, before 16,621 at Veterans Stadium.

Junge (pronounced Young) allowed no earned runs while striking out five - his fastball was clocked in the low- to mid-90s all night - and walking four. He filled in for Brandon Duckworth, out with a minor back ailment.

Manager Larry Bowa liked the demeanor of the 6-foot-5 righthander, one of two minor-league pitchers acquired from the Dodgers last year for Omar Daal. (Daal had been acquired in the controversial Curt Schilling trade in 2000.)

"Most kids making their first starts would be apprehensive, but he acted like he was here 20 years," said Bowa, whose club got three hits from Marlon Byrd, a key two-run single from Bobby Abreu, and Pat Burrell's 37th homer. "He was like, 'Let's go!' "

Bowa said he didn't know if Junge would get another start this year, "but you'll see more of him in games. This may be a good stepping-stone for him to go from here to the [Arizona] Fall League."

After Scranton's season ended, Junge went to his home in New York state and was preparing to go to New York City for the Sept. 11 ceremonies to honor the victims. Junge planned to bring his trumpet and play taps at the ceremony.

"It's my little way of getting out my emotions," he said, "but I'd rather be pitching."

Junge felt compelled to travel to the World Trade Center site on Sept. 11 because he wanted to pay respect to three friends he lost in the attacks - Brad Fetchet, Chris Mello and Mark McGinley.

Mello was Junge's teammate in Little League and high school. The others were his classmates at Bucknell University.

As it turned out, Junge didn't go to ground zero. He was promoted to the Phils on Sept. 10. He scrawled his friends' last names on his cap for inspiration.

"It's a tribute to those guys," he said.

Getting the call-up from the Phils "has been kind of surreal," Junge said. "I was getting ready to mourn for Sept. 11, and now I'm alive [with excitement]."

At Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Junge was 12-6 with a 3.54 ERA. He was second in the International League in innings (180 2/3), fifth in wins, and fifth in strikeouts (126).

Junge, 25, part of an impressive Scranton rotation that included Brett Myers and Joe Roa, also led the league in a dubious category - walks (67).

When they head into the winter, the Phils have just two locks for next year's starting rotation - Randy Wolf and Padilla. Myers is close to a lock. That leaves two spots, one of which may go to a free agent.

The early list of starter candidates includes Roa ("He's really opened my eyes," Bowa said), Duckworth, Bud Smith, David Coggin, Hector Mercado, Jose Silva and Junge.

With the game scoreless, Pokey Reese slammed a ground-rule double to left-center to start the fifth inning and moved to third on Jack Wilson's sacrifice. Junge then appeared to retire the dangerous Brian Giles on a pop to shallow left.

Oops. Shortstop Jimmy Rollins, after a short run, dropped the ball and allowed Reese to score an unearned run.

"I zooed it," Rollins said.

In the bottom of the fifth, Marlon Anderson cracked a ground-rule double and went to third on Todd Pratt's single to right. But Jeremy Giambi popped out to short for the first out.

Rollins, atoning for his fielding blunder, ripped a liner that rightfielder Craig Wilson played into a double. Tie game.

After Placido Polanco grounded out, Abreu grounded a clutch single to center to give the Phils a 3-1 lead and increase his hitting streak to 10.

Burrell made it 4-1 with his eighth-inning homer, and Jose Mesa pitched a perfect ninth to become the first pitcher in Phillies history to post two 40-save seasons.

But the night belonged to Junge. And his friends.

Contact Sam Carchidi at 215-854-5181 or scarchidi@phillynews.com.

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