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Pencil Torra in

Pittsfield High, UMass star pitcher knows the score -- he's a top pro prospect

Pat Torra has gone through more scorebooks than she can count. Ever since her son, Matt, first toed the Little League rubber in Pittsfield in the early '90s, she has been a fixture at his games. She sits in the bleachers or in a lawn chair, and chronicles the action with a well-sharpened pencil.

She and her husband, Jim, who owns a small building and remodeling business, never missed one of Matt's starts at Pittsfield High School. Nor did they miss one during the past three seasons at the University of Massachusetts -- whether the games were played an hour from home in Amherst, or on distant diamonds in Dayton, Ohio, or Richmond. If Matt was on the mound, Pat was keeping score.

Over the years, she has become quite proficient at writing the letter ''K."

This season, she recorded 111 strikeouts for Matt in 94 2/3 innings. There were Ks on 93 mile-per-hour fastballs, Ks on vicious curveballs with the nasty 12-to-6 break, and Ks increasingly on the circle change with the late bite.

All those strikeouts (coupled with a 6-3 record and a Bob Gibson-esque ERA of 1.14, best in the nation in Division 1) will add up to many Ks of another variety after tomorrow's Major League Baseball draft. Matt Torra undoubtedly will be an early selection, leading to a substantial signing bonus.

''I'm really looking forward to Tuesday," Torra said last week as he prepared to fly to Pittsburgh with his dad for a workout with the Pirates, who have the 11th pick. ''But I know this is a once-in-a-lifetime thing, so I'm trying to enjoy the ride."

Attorney Jim Masteralexis, Torra's family adviser, is confident Matt will be taken in the first round. He has had significant interest from seven teams with first-round picks, ranging from the Devil Rays at No. 8 to the Cardinals at No. 28.

One of those teams is the Red Sox, who have been aggressive in their pursuit. The Sox have six of the first 59 picks, and if Torra is available with their first selection at No. 23, they might look to their home state.

Red Sox area scout Ray Fagnant visited the Torras' Pittsfield home last week. Before that, the Sox administered a 90-minute psychological questionnaire over the phone that covered everything from Torra's response to death to early childhood memories -- shingling roofs with his father, playing Scrabble with his mom.

The biggest evidence of the Sox' interest came one Sunday last month when general manager Theo Epstein paid a visit to Amherst to watch a team that would wind up with a 16-33 record. In the stands, fans nudged each other and pointed. UMass coach Mike Stone later admitted, ''I didn't know which one he was -- he looked like a college kid."

But Stone's players, more than half of them Massachusetts kids, had no doubt. Excitedly, they went up to Torra in the bullpen and said, ''Theo's here."

Torra's response was simple: ''I don't want to hear about it. I just want to pitch."

He did that exceptionally well, tossing a two-hit shutout.

According to Torra, it is that newfound focus that, more than anything else, has elevated him from a strong-armed prospect with good mechanics to a bonafide pitcher who has scouts gushing.

''Growing up, I wasn't mentally tough," he said matter-of-factly. ''I would give in a lot."

Even during his first two solid but unspectacular seasons at UMass, his body language sometimes showed frustration, giving the piranhas in the other dugout the first whiff of blood.

Knowing he would be eligible for the draft after his junior year, Torra put himself on a mission. He lost 16 pounds to become a chiseled 221. He worked hard to perfect the changeup, knowing that it provided attractive bait to scouts, even if it wasn't always necessary to dominate in the Atlantic 10 Conference. Most of all, he worked on the mental part of the game.

He learned to develop a focal point at every park, a place to return his gaze to summon his concentration. He developed a new breathing routine. And he bought in completely to Stone's ''next pitch mentality," leaving the past in the rearview mirror.

Catcher Bryan Garrity, who caught 2003 first-round pick Jeff Allison at Peabody High School, was struck by Torra's unrelenting focus: ''If he walked someone or gave up a hit, it was like, 'So what? I'll leave him there.' "

As the season progressed, the buzz around Torra became deafening. In some games, the scouts, scouting directors, cross-checkers, and general managers almost outnumbered the fans. Against Rhode Island, there were 50 major league personnel on hand. Every pitch Torra threw was clocked by at least 15 radar guns.

''You see them in the stands," said Torra. ''You see them when you go to the bullpen. But as soon as I get on that mound, everybody just disappears for me. It's just me and the catcher. Until that ball is hit, I don't see anything. I hear noise, but I can't make anything out."

Before long, Peter Gammons was mentioning Torra on ESPN's ''Baseball Tonight." About the same time, the trade publication Baseball America was projecting Torra as a first-round selection, No. 20 in the nation and moving up, someone with ''more helium than anyone in the draft."

Still, Torra stays grounded, in large part because of the support on the home front. In Pittsfield, a host of subcontractors -- painters and plumbers and roofers -- are asking Jim on a daily basis about the draft prospects for his son, a guy they remember working with each summer. At St. Theresa's Church, 82-year-old Mary Torra goes to services every day, and increasingly she finds herself collecting six or seven newspaper clippings about her grandson, cut out by friends from that morning's Berkshire Eagle.

Tomorrow will be a big day in town. In the late afternoon, friends and family will come to Pittsfield High to hear the favorite son address the media.

His days as an amateur have all but disappeared. Last night, though, there was one more chance to see him, as he pitched two scoreless innings in the New England College Baseball All-Star Game at Fenway Park. The game, played after the Sox beat the Angels, drew a number of scouts who got one last look at Matt Torra.

There were plenty of folks from Pittsfield as well, including, of course, Matt's parents. Pat Torra sat in the stands taking in the end of one era and the beginning of the next, scorebook in hand.

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