Rod Carew, the Angels' first batter of the first inning Sunday afternoon, was called upon to lay down a bunt, but he got a little carried away. His effort wound up hopping over the pitcher's mound and skidding under the glove of a surprised Julio Franco, the Cleveland shortstop, for an infield single.
It was a fluke, a freak, a quirk.
And an omen.
With that play, the Angels embarked on a strange journey that would take them, in more than four wild and implausible hours, back into sole possession of first place in the American League West.
It ended--after 4 hours and 25 minutes of pop flies abandoned in the sun, baseballs bobbled and dropped and thrown away, wild pitches on third strikes and line drives bouncing off umpires--with the same principals involved: Carew, Franco and a grounder to short.
And, it ended the only way it could end--on an error.
There, with one out in the bottom of the 12th inning, Carew directed the baseball again toward Franco. Franco lowered into his crouch, braced himself for the final hop, reached down . . . and grabbed air. The ball scooted right between his legs into left field, enabling Rufino Linares to score from second base and give the Angels a 10-9 victory before a Fan Appreciation Day crowd of 47,895 at Anaheim Stadium.
"Thank you very much," said Doug DeCinces as he peered out from the Angels dugout. And then he and his teammates spilled out onto the field to embrace Linares and Carew, celebrating the game's conclusion with as much fervor as the victory's significance.
The win, coupled with Kansas City's 7-3 loss to Minnesota, left the Angels alone in first place in the AL West. After sharing the lead with the Royals since Thursday, the Angels had broken the tie.
It took 12 tortuous, mind-bending innings to do it. A strange day at the ball yard? This one goes well beyond that.
Consider first that the Angels scored their first seven runs, for all intents, after the third out in both the first and fourth innings. Or, what should have been the third out.
In the first inning, with two out and two runners on base, Reggie Jackson struck out, but reached base when Indians catcher Jerry Willard couldn't handle strike three. That allowed Bobby Grich to get a chance to deliver his fifth career grand slam.
In the fourth, again with two outs and one runner on base, Franco lost a pop-up by Brian Downing in the sun, extending the inning long enough for DeCinces to hit his second three-run home run in as many days.
That was just the warmup. Still to come were:
--A heated argument in the fifth inning between home plate umpire Ken Kaiser and Cleveland Manager Pat Corrales that brought Kaiser into the Indians dugout for a nose-to-nose confrontation. By the time Kaiser returned to the field, Corrales had been ejected from the game. He signaled his departure by flinging five batting helmets and a medical kit onto the Anaheim Stadium grass.
"I'm the umpire and, unfortunately for them, they can't throw me out," Kaiser said. "Although around the 10th inning, I wish someone could have."
--A line drive off the bat of Brook Jacoby that caught umpire Dale Ford on the hip in the ninth inning. With Brett Butler on first base, the ball was ruled a hit, moving Butler into position to score the tying run moments later on a single by Andre Thornton.
Ford was serving as both third and second base umpire because the fourth member of the crew, Rocky Roe, was ill. He was standing on the grass in front of second base when Jacoby connected, the umpire coming between the ball and Angel shortstop Dick Schofield.
Could Schofield have made the play without umpire's interference? He said he doubted it. So did Angel Manager Gene Mauch. "It didn't look like it, from where I was," Mauch said. "(Ford) would've been standing there anyway (if there had been a fourth umpire) because the double play was in order."
--And, Franco's 35th error of the season, bringing the game to a close in the 12th inning.
Linares, pinch-hitting for Craig Gerber, led off the inning by walking. He moved to second on Boone's sacrifice and was followed by another walk to Gary Pettis. Carew then hit what should have been a double-play grounder.
Instead, Franco let it slide through his legs. . . . and let the Angels slide ahead of Kansas City in the standings.