CHICAGO -- Imagine being 21 years old and already reaching the pinnacle of your chosen profession.
Well, it certainly won't be the highest accomplishment for a talented pitcher such as the White Sox's Brandon McCarthy. But after being selected in the 17th round of the 2002 First-Year Player Draft, reaching the Major Leagues in three years stands as the achievement of an enormous goal.
Now, imagine making your Major League debut in front of close to 40,000 fans, at Wrigley Field, with your team fighting for a three-game sweep. Add in McCarthy pitching against Mark Prior, one of his pitching idols, and it would be easy for the young right-hander to be catatonic, let alone nervous, Sunday afternoon.
Instead, McCarthy was the picture of composure, before, during and after the game. McCarthy's first big league effort ended in a no-decision, after working 5 1/3 innings. It also turned out to be a Cubs' 4-3 victory before 39,334, preventing the White Sox's second sweep in this heated Interleague series and their first since 1999 at Wrigley.
McCarthy's solid effort, yielding two earned runs on four hits while striking out six and walking one, gave the White Sox (31-13) a little taste of what could be a dominant pitcher in the future. Of course, the team hopes it's in the more distant future, such as 2006, keeping this starting staff intact for a postseason drive.
"He's got a purpose out there and you can see it when he doesn't put the ball where he wants it," said White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko of McCarthy. "To have the stuff he has with the command already is pretty good."
"Great. Awesome," added White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, in describing McCarthy's effort. "I said all the way from the beginning of Spring Training that this kid has great stuff. He showed everybody in Chicago, he showed me, he showed (general manager) Kenny Williams what kind of pitcher he can be."
At least one local television personality, during Guillen's postgame interview session, thought McCarthy should have pitched even longer. Nursing a 2-1 lead in the sixth, on the strength of solo home runs from Tadahito Iguchi (fourth) and Jermaine Dye (ninth), McCarthy hit Derrek Lee to open the inning. After inducing a fly ball to left from Jeromy Burnitz, Guillen replaced McCarthy with reliever Luis Vizcaino after 78 pitches.
Guillen's thoughts were very clear and definitive. He wanted McCarthy to leave with a chance to win, but no chance to lose. Aramis Ramirez had flown out deep twice against McCarthy, and with the wind blowing out at 20 mph, Guillen wasn't taking any chances.
When questioned about his exit, McCarthy was very diplomatic and said that the call was totally up to Guillen and he knew the end of his effort was near. When the line of questioning was pushed, the fiery Guillen wasn't so calm.
"I took him out because I'm the (bleep) manager," said Guillen, after explaining his decision in detail. "That's it. You want me to explain it to you, I'll explain to you. But I did it because I'm the (bleep) manager.
"This kid comes from the Minor Leagues with the best he could to keep us in the game. I always give my pitcher the best opportunity to win the game. I had a lot of confidence in my (bleep) bullpen, and that's why I put them there."
Unfortunately, Vizcaino (2-2) did not reward Guillen's confidence on this occasion. Corey Patterson ripped a two-out single to right, and rookie Jason Dubois followed with a three-run blast to right-center for the game-winner.
Paul Konerko / 1B
Weight: 215 lbs
Bats: R / Throws: R
With Konerko (No. 11) joining Dye and Iguchi in the ninth, the White Sox actually out-homered the hosts by a 3-2 margin. But the ultimate difference was the hero being a little bit better than the rookie who admires him.
Prior (4-1) allowed six hits, walked one and struck out seven during his complete-game effort. The Cubs' right-hander and McCarthy actually have a relationship beyond their similar career choice, aversion to walking the opposition and the wearing of their socks at a high level on the mound.
John Kazanas, the Arizona-based scout who recommended McCarthy's selection, arranged a meeting between the two at Bank One Ballpark shortly after the draft. The two have kept in touch, both in person and by e-mail, since that meeting.
When McCarthy found out he was coming to the Majors, prior to Triple-A Charlotte's game in Ottawa, he sent Prior an e-mail. The contents stated that McCarthy wouldn't ask for any advice, since they were pitching against each other, and humorously suggested Prior should take it easy on him.
"I didn't e-mail back," said Prior with a smile of McCarthy, whose Minor League teammates often referred to him as 'Little Prior' or 'McPrior.' "He will be a big asset for that organization. He pitched well and had good stuff."
In the final analysis, McCarthy gave himself mixed reviews. Mentally, he was pleased with his approach and how he handled the extraordinary pressure of the moment. In fact, the game was easier than the family travel and luggage mishaps he faced Saturday.
Nothing could have prepared him for the orange blouse and blue and white skirt that he was forced to wear on the plane to Anaheim as part of rookie treatment. Otherwise, the fulfillment of a dream was everything McCarthy could have expected.
"Anything could have happened, and I would have enjoyed it," said McCarthy, who put himself in position for this start with a dynamic Spring Training. "Being here and a part of all this, getting to say you are a Major League baseball player, that's special. I definitely enjoyed that.
"Mechanically, I could have been sharper. Overall, for the first time, it was a good outing. It was fun."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.