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Arroyo ready to take center stage
10/14/2004 4:18 PM ET
BOSTON -- Red Sox starter Bronson Arroyo has been waiting for a start like Friday's matchup against the Yankees in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series since he was kid in Florida.

The anticipation has been with him since the day the Pirates drafted him in 1995, and magnified a short time later when the club released him in the winter of 2003.

That said, he is not overwhelmed.

"I don't feel the weight of the entire season," Arroyo, 27, said. "I obviously feel a lot of pressure from this series. But, you know, we're not down 3-0, but obviously we're backed into a corner and there's going to be a huge, huge game."

Huge, indeed. The Red Sox trail, 0-2, in the ALCS and one more loss will put them on the verge of elimination.

But Arroyo acknowledges the alternative to his current situation -- namely a trip back to the minor leagues. He's already been there and done that, and is not looking to do it again.

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"He has had some Major League experience but coming to this organization and getting this chance helped," Red Sox pitching coach Dave Wallace said. "It's not unusual for guys in their second or third opportunity to relish in it and run with it."

Cast off by the Pirates and signed with the Red Sox before the 2003 season, Arroyo started the 2004 season as the team's sixth starter before working his way back into the rotation.

But the road to Fenway has not been easy.

"He had his struggles, as a lot of young guys do," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "All winter people kept telling me if this guy gets a chance, he's going to be a good pitcher. And, he got his chance. Rather than just be content to be a fourth or fifth starter, kind of go through the year and be OK, he got hungrier as he progressed and started having some success."

Arroyo went 12-6 with a 4.34 ERA in 149 innings for Pawtucket in 2003, and boasted a 2.08 ERA in 17 1/3 innings for the Red Sox after being promoted to the big league club. He went 0-0 with a 2.70 ERA in 3 1/3 innings of relief against the Yankees in the 2003 ALCS.

"He was a real highly-touted prospect coming up through the Pirates system and for whatever reason, stalled a couple of years. But in the year he had for us in Triple-A last year, he was outstanding and really developed," Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein said. "I credit Bronson. There has been a really good pitcher in there the whole time, it was a matter of developing consistency and finding out the weaknesses in his game."

So after four consecutive seasons up and down from Triple-A, he went 10-9 with a 4.03 ERA during the regular season in 178 2/3 innings over 32 games pitched in his first full big league season.

But he was not done. The right-hander allowed three hits and two runs in six innings in Game 3 of the ALDS against Anaheim in his last start.

"He came up, and he took that role on," Wallace said. "He is sitting for 10 days and then [pitching] again, and then maybe doing it two or three days in a row. It was impressive, enough so that he was on the postseason roster last year."

For his career, Bronson is 19-23 with a 4.63 ERA and 3-5 with a 4.90 ERA in 90 regular-season innings at Fenway. He continues to mature as a pitcher almost on a daily basis.

"I think this year I've grown as a pitcher, just having an opportunity to take the ball every fifth day," Arroyo said. "It's the first organization that's given me the opportunity to go out as a starter and not worry about going back to the bullpen or be sent down to Triple-A. I think I've just grown mentally, getting used to the hitters in the American League.

The pitcher may still be getting accustomed to the AL, but the Yankees know Arroyo well. How can they forget him?

In four games against New York in 2004, he went 0-0 with a 5.35 ERA in 24 innings, including an outing on July 24 when he hit Alex Rodriguez with a fastball that eventually incited a brawl.

Hitting Rodriguez was not on purpose, but pitching inside was not an accident.

"I probably throw inside to less than probably 75 percent of the starters in the American League, but when I do go inside it's for a purpose; I have to pitch in there," Arroyo said. "And against the Yankee lineup, it's definitely the lineup that I have faced the entire season that I've got to go in there more than any other time. The first three guys in the order, (Gary) Sheffield, A-Rod and (Derek) Jeter at some point in the game, I've got to get inside on them."

The Red Sox went on to finish with a 46-20 record after the July 24 incident.

"It was a huge win obviously for that day," Arroyo said. "But as baseball players, we come into the clubhouse and it's so day-to-day. We look at winning today. We don't worry about yesterday or tomorrow."

It has to be. He has been waiting for this moment for years.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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