Mark Prior recently announced his retirement from baseball. The following chronology serves as my memory of Prior’s career.
May 22, 2002 – In his major league debut, Mark Prior gave up two runs over six innings while striking out ten Pittsburgh Pirate batters. Prior picked up the win as the Cubs prevailed 7-4 at Wrigley Field. In 19 starts that season, Prior struck out ten or more batters six times. As a rookie, Prior also threw over 100 pitches in 14 games. In his other five games, he tossed 86, 94, 95, 97, and 98 pitches.
August 4, 2002 – Prior set a season high with thirteen strikeouts in this nine-inning, 4-1 complete game victory over the Colorado Rockies. Although a meaningless game in the standings, Prior threw a season-high 135 pitches in the game.
April 9, 2003 – Prior threw a complete game shutout against the Montreal Expos in which he struck out 12 batters while yielding only four base runners. In Prior’s 30 starts that season, he threw over 100 pitches 26 times and he threw 95 or more pitches in three of his four other starts.
August 10/August 15, 2003 – Prior threw back-to-back complete games in victories against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Despite being a second-year pitcher, by this time Prior had established himself as one of the three most dominant pitchers in the National League (along with Kevin Brown and teammate Kerry Wood). In the heat of a pennant race, Prior threw 116 and 118 pitches respectively. He threw as many or more pitches in 12 other games that season.
September 16/September 21/September 27, 2003 – Prior finished the season with three crucial wins for the Cubs. In those three games, he struck out 37 batters while throwing 388 pitches. Most notably, on September 27, Prior pitched on one of the most memorable days in modern Cubs history. The mood was electric on the second-to-last day of the season as the Cubs swept a doubleheader versus the Pittsburgh Pirates while the Houston Astros lost to the Milwaukee Brewers. As a result, the Cubs clinched the division for the first time since 1989. By the seventh inning of the second game, those of us in the center field bleachers (celebrating a close friend’s bachelor party) began hearing a steady stream of noise from behind us. A friend and I walked to the back of the bleachers and looked through the chain-link fence to see thousands of people swarming the streets. Both Waveland and Sheffield were packed with people for as far as we could see. It took almost an hour to leave the park that day due to the crowds swarming outside – not that any of us were in a hurry to leave.
October 3, 2003 – Tied one game to one in game three of the National League Division Series, Prior led the Cubs to a 3-1 victory over Greg Maddux and the Atlanta Braves by tossing a 133-pitch complete game. The atmosphere was electric that Friday night as the Cubs closed to within one game of their first playoff series victory since 1908. The Cubs went on to beat the Braves in five games and win the series.
October 8, 2003 - For two hundred and fifty dollars, I spent my birthday watching the Cubs clobber the then Florida Marlins 12-3 in game two of the National League Championship Series (“NLCS”) at Wrigley Field. The Cubs evened up the series one game apiece on this unseasonably warm 75-degree day. Prior gave up only two runs in seven innings on 116 pitches.
October 14, 2003 – I returned to Wrigley Field on my mom’s birthday for game six of the NLCS. Prior took a lead into the eighth inning before a series of unfortunate events transpired to result in eight Marlin runs. While being charged with only three runs on 119 pitches, Prior suffered the loss in the game.
June 4, 2004 – In his first start of the season, following a two-month absence due to an Achilles’ tendon injury, Prior returned to Wrigley Field and pitched a gem against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Prior pitched six scoreless innings, struck out 8 batters, and gave up only two hits. The mood that day was one of a playoff atmosphere as those of us in the stands fully expected the Cubs to make another long run into the playoffs. With the offseason additions of Derrek Lee and Greg Maddux, the Cubs appeared nearly unstoppable on paper. The Cubs lost 2-1 to the Pirates that early June day (as my law school classmates and I played hooky from day one of our class reunion to attend the game) and subsequently failed to make the playoffs that year.
September 30, 2004 – Prior dominated the Cincinnati Reds for nine innings, striking out sixteen batters and giving up only four base runners along with one run. The Cubs ended up losing that contest 2-1 in the twelfth inning. The game marked Prior’s ninth consecutive outing in which he threw over 100 pitches.
May 27, 2005 - Prior left this start against the Colorado Rockies after just three innings when he suffered one of his more bizarre injuries. With one out in the fourth inning, Prior was struck by a ball and incurred a compression fracture of his right elbow. Prior missed one month as a result. Despite this injury, Prior remained relatively healthy that season, starting 27 games. Nineteen times that year, Prior threw 100 or more pitches and he tossed 92 or more pitches another five times.
August 10, 2006 - In his last game as a Cub, Prior lasted only three innings while giving up six runs to the Milwaukee Brewers. Prior started only nine games in his final, injury-plagued season. Despite a myriad of injuries, Prior threw 100 or more pitches in 5 of those 9 games. Perhaps fortunately, I have no personal memory of this game.