Features

Late bloomer

National

Issue: "Isabel's slow march," Sept. 27, 2003

Think of it: for half a million dollars and a minor-league tryout, any team could have bought the American League's leading Cy Young award candidate. In an era in which a top pitcher can draw over $15 million, Chicago White Sox ace right-hander Esteban Loaiza came at a bargain-basement price. When the White Sox invited Mr. Loaiza to spring training and gave him a $500,000 deal, the journeyman pitcher must have seemed more like Cy Barger (pitcher, 1906-1915) than Cy Young. In his previous decade in the majors, Mr. Loaiza managed only a 4.88 ERA and a losing career record. This season, he stood on the verge of his 20th victory by mid-September and carried an impressive 2.73 ERA.

Three teams had already given up on the pitcher. He broke even in wins with both Pittsburgh and Texas in his first two stops. He then carried a losing record with Toronto, and the Blue Jays let him go after a dismal 2002 season. But like pop icon David Bowie, Mr. Loaiza reinvented himself, adding a motion to his fastball that confused hitters and clubs that passed on him alike.

It's confused Mr. Loaiza himself. The pitcher told the Chicago Sun-Times that he only started to save his winning game balls after his 11th victory. "Eventually, I'm going to frame them all up," he said.

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