Austin pitcher struggles in front of hometown fans

Published 12:00 am Monday, August 2, 1999

Mike Wuertz reserved 18 tickets for his start Saturday against the Quad City River Bandits in Davenport, Iowa.

Monday, August 02, 1999

Mike Wuertz reserved 18 tickets for his start Saturday against the Quad City River Bandits in Davenport, Iowa.

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The four-and-a-half hour drive makes it one of the nearest tickets to Austin in the Class A Midwest League.

So for those pining to catch a Wuertz start, July 31 was circled on the refrigerator-door calendar.

What made it even more attractive was the anticipated revival of the long-running duel between the Austin ace and Mike Restovich, Rochester Mayo’s pride-and-joy and the top slugger in the Twins’ organization.

Wuertz’s family and his friends were in abundance at John O’Donnell Stadium.

Only to see their favorite righthander get shellacked and Restovich ride the pine.

"That’s baseball," said Wuertz, who then used a batting analogy to describe his poor outing, "I feel like I went 0-for-5 with five strikeouts."

Wuetz lasted but three lonesome innings in his club’s 9-5 loss.

Still, Wuertz showed flashes of what made him the Chicago Cubs’ 15th rated prospect in the preseason, according to Baseball America.

He needed just 22 pitches to work his way through two innings. He didn’t allow a three-ball count to the first seven batters, got an inning-ending double play to end the first and struck out No. 5 hitter Yustin Jordan on three pitches in the second.

But his high ceiling caved in the third, when he surrendered five runs on six hits and a walk, including Jon Schaeffer’s two-run triple and Jordan’s revenge blast – a three-run job to dead center.

"Left the ball up," Wuertz said. "Those are the four worst words a pitcher can hear."

Though Wuertz wouldn’t admit to it and even insisted it wasn’t so, his pitching coach, Stan Kyles, believed the hometown adulation cost Wuertz.

"There was an awful lot of people to see him here tonight," Kyles said. "It’s easy to feel the pressure and start trying to be too fine.

"Usually he’s a little more aggressive."

For Wuertz’s part, he said the umpire wasn’t calling the low strike, forcing him to adjust. But he over-adjusted, throwing high. Though pulled after finishing three innings, Wuertz said he could’ve continued.

"I think I could have made the adjustment in the next inning," Wuertz said.

Restovich’s absence also may have distracted Wuertz, who said he was disappointed his high school rival did not play.

"It would’ve been nice to face him again," Wuertz said. "It could have been a totally different night."

Instead, it was a night Wuertz, who dropped to 10-9 in his second pro season, would rather forget. But it was a night others won’t soon forget.

Mitch Mullenbach and Mike Schulke were at the game. The duo were the shortstop and first baseman, respectively, for the Packers during Wuertz’s reign.

It was the second time this season his former teammates watched Wuertz pitch.

"It’s weird," Mullenbach said.

"Yeah," Schulke . "It’s hard to believe. It’s like a dream."

Call it one false step on the road to the biggest dream of all: the Major Leagues.

"The numbers down here don’t mean anything," Wuertz said. "Until you make it to Wrigley."