Admired from Day One, former Navy Lt. Mitch Harris is now earning new kind of respect
ST. LOUIS -- Former Navy Lieutenant Mitch Harris didn't need to throw a single pitch to earn the admiration of his teammates.
Manager Mike Matheny recalls in one of Harris' first days with the club, the rest of the Cardinals in Harris' immediate area didn't leave the field after the national anthem until he did, out of respect for his service. Some two weeks later, the big right-hander has earned a different kind of respect as well, thanks to 6 2/3 scoreless innings in his first six appearances.
"The guys in there get it that it's a big deal what he's doing," Matheny says. "We're not forgetting that, but we're also realizing it's a big deal what he's doing on the mound for us."
Harris came in for the top of the sixth Tuesday night with the game tied at four and held the Cubs scoreless for an inning, capped off with a strikeout of leadoff hitter Dexter Fowler. When pinch hitter Mark Reynolds doubled to start a two-run rally in the bottom half of the inning, it put Harris in line for his first major league win, and the first ever for a Navy grad.
No former Midshipman has ever given up a run in the big leagues, including 4 2/3 scoreless innings by Nemo Gaines for the Washington Senators in 1921. But he never earned a win, an accomplishment Harris won't soon forget.
"They can't take this one away from me," Harris said. "I've already got the ball in my locker. I'll probably put it away somewhere nice and always cherish the first one."
An official scorer in Milwaukee took away what arguably should have been Harris' first win, at least according to Matheny. After starter Adam Wainwright couldn't come out for the fifth inning because of injury, Harris preserved the Cardinals' 2-0 lead for 1 1/3 innings, but Matt Belisle earned the win for pitching 1 2/3 innings and working out of a jam.
Either way, Harris' sights are set on far more than a single win, and he has no intentions of stopping now that he's achieved his lifelong goal of reaching baseball's highest level. It took him longer than most because of five years as a weapons officer in the Persian Gulf, Russia and South America, but he has rewarded St. Louis for taking the chance on him in the 13th round of the 2008 MLB Draft.
Just five of the 29 other players taken in that round have made it to the top, and only Harris has a key role in baseball's best bullpen. A mix of four-seam fastballs in the mid-90s, cutters and changeups has been enough for him to find success, just like in the minors and spring training last March.
"I'd keep doing what he's doing," Matheny says. "He's making good pitches and he's not real predictable because he's able to throw multiple pitches. It's been a good run. He just needs to keep working and getting better and learn the league."
While everyone else focused on the remarkable journey from sailor to reliever, Harris tried not to see himself as anything besides just another pitcher. His chances of sticking in St. Louis continue to grow along with his confidence, but his approach to the game hasn't changed.
"I know that my story is a little different, but I don't want to be any more different than anyone else," Harris says. "To me, it's just like anybody else, it's the first win for me and I'm excited. We'll celebrate later on when we do bigger things."
As tempting as it might be to call Harris the anchor of the bullpen for pun purposes, he still has plenty of work to do to earn that title. But after all he's done to get to this point, it would be foolish to put anything beyond his reach.
You can follow Luke Thompson on Twitter at @FS_LukeT or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.