Their lead in the American League West had dwindled to 1 1/2 games. The pitching was shaky and the clutch hits were few and far between. But just when things were beginning to look a little dim for the Angels, along came the Detroit Tigers, who appear to be playing with blinders on.
These days, the defending world champs look defenseless.
Friday, the Tigers committed three errors in the ninth inning to help the Angels rally for five runs and a 7-6 win. Sunday, Detroit committed five errors as the Angels won, 7-1, in front of 36,026 at Anaheim Stadium. The win, coupled with Kansas City's loss to Texas, increased the Angels' lead to 2 1/2 games.
Detroit center fielder Chet Lemon, who made only two errors all last year and had not committed one since July 21, 1984, let two balls get away from him in the outfield and threw one over the head of catcher Marty Castillo as the Angels scored three unearned runs.
Another plus for the Angels was that starter Jim Slaton, who was 1-3 with an 8.21 earned run average over his last five starts, put in an impressive 5 innings. And Stewart Cliburn finished up with an even stronger final 3 to get the win, boosting his record to 8-2.
"Jim gave us exactly what we needed until we got the bats moving a little bit," Angel Manager Gene Mauch said. "And Stewart finished it off just like he has many times."
Mauch said he preferred to call Slaton's performance a pleasant development, rather than a surprise.
"He's always had that kind of stuff," Mauch said. "When he keeps the fastball down, they chase the low sliders. When's he's up, the outfielders do the chasing."
The last time Slaton pitched he almost didn't escape the first inning alive. The Yankees' Don Mattingly and Dave Winfield slugged back-to-back solo homers before Ken Griffey lined a shot that hit Slaton flush on the right bicep. He left after three innings and five Yankees had scored.
"It's been frustrating," Slaton said. "I try to forget the negative aspect of a loss and carry over something positive to the next outing.
"The only thing positive about that game was that I stopped one ball from going out of the park," he said, smiling and rubbing the huge purple bruise on his arm.
Slaton was able to laugh about his misfortunes, but it might be awhile before Lemon sees any humor in this game.
"I can't remember making two errors in one game, let alone three," he said. "Hopefully, I'll go about 200 more games without making another. I'm sure not gonna let one game destroy something I've worked so hard for.
"It was a tough day all around. I hate to sum up a whole season with one game, but this has been a tough season for us."
Both teams decided to forgo batting practice and, despite the 100-degree heat, it took five innings for the batters to warm up. The Tigers' Alan Trammell broke the drought with a solo homer to left-center off Slaton to open the sixth.
Detroit seemed headed for a big inning when Kirk Gibson and Darrell Evans followed with back-to-back singles, but designated hitter Nelson Simmons popped up trying to sacrifice and a confused Gibson was doubled off second.
The Angels came back in their half of the inning to score three times. Gary Pettis walked, Rob Wilfong was safe when Evans bobbled his sacrifice attempt and both scored when Lemon overran Bob Boone's single up the middle with the infield in.
Boone, who took second on Lemon's error, was out trying to reach third on Dick Schofield's grounder to first. But Schofield stole second and kept going to third when Castillo's throw went into center field. One out later, Schofield scored on Rod Carew's single to right.
In the eighth, Juan Beniquez's bases-loaded bloop single became a bases-clearing hit when Lemon came up throwing and hit the backstop on the fly. Beniquez, who went all the way around to third, scored on Reggie Jackson's sacrifice fly.
"We've had some cooperation here and there from the opposition, but I'd say the luck factor was about a push today," Mauch said. "(Ruppert) Jones hit three shots before he got a hit. The Tigers lost the one Friday night, but we won this one."
Was this the Tigers' worst day in an already disappointing season?
"I'll let you decide that," Detroit Manager Sparky Anderson said. "Nothing in this game shocks me, but we haven't done anything right all year. It hasn't been a one-day affair. After 121 errors, I don't have any idea what we're going to do."