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A SYSTEM THAT DIDN'T : The Angels Did Much Better Than Expected, Yet, the Brass Ring Was So Close at the End

October 07, 1985|ROSS NEWHAN | Times Staff Writer

ARLINGTON, TEX. — A season of over-achievement by the Angels will be remembered for its underwhelming finish.

The bats turned to sawdust. The manager's mirrors disintegrated. The Angels whined more about where they were playing than how they were playing.

The Angels led the West by six games at the All-Star break. They led Kansas City by 6 1/2 on July 21. They still led by one entering a four-game series at Kansas City last Monday. Choke? Fold?

The descriptions seem harsh when weighed against the fact that most experts picked the Angels to finish third or lower in a comparatively weak division. Sports Illustrated rated them 25th among the 26 teams.

The final, futile tailspin--the eight losses in the last 13 games, the four runs in a stretch of 40 innings--may have been nothing more than a frustrating return to reality, though it seemed reminiscent of a comparable collapse at the end of the 1984 season, when the Angels' were accused of lacking heart, intensity, drive.

The 1984 team also lacked runs, just as the 1985 team did, particularly when the season was on the line. Nevertheless, only five teams won more games than the Angels this year and only the 1982 Angels, who set a club record with 93 wins, won more than the '85 team's total of 90.

What now?

General Manager Mike Port said Sunday that Gene Mauch would definitely return as manager.

He said the winter quest would center on a left-handed relief pitcher, a front-line catcher to lighten Bob Boone's work schedule, and a reliable hitter to improve the offense.

Will the Angels be active in the free-agent market? Will improved pitching depth allow them to trade for a hitter? Will they continue to weed out veterans now that the farm system has produced an array of apparent prospects?

Port said he couldn't be specific until he met with Mauch and his front-office staff at some point in the next two weeks. Not until then, Port said, would a course of action be charted regarding the Angels' 10 potential free agents.

It is assumed, however, he will begin immediate negotiations with relief pitcher Donnie Moore, who had a club-record 31 saves, an earned-run average of 1.92 and an 8-8 record.

His retention seems a must, but it already may be too late. Agent David Pinter suggested more than a week ago that Moore, the club's MVP in a vote of his teammates, will likely test the market, seeking a multiyear contract comparable to Detroit's Willie Hernandez, who is guaranteed $1.5 million a year. Pinter said the deal must include an annuity and deferments, both of which the Angels oppose.

A bidding war with the New York Yankees' George Steinbrenner, among others, would take the Angels into financial areas they are now trying to avoid, particularly since Rod Carew, Juan Beniquez, Bobby Grich, Don Sutton, Al Holland, Geoff Zahn and Ken Forsch are also eligible for free agency.

So are Ruppert Jones and Reggie Jackson, though their potential freedom is tied to option clauses.

The Angels hold the 1986 option on Jones and are expected to exercise it despite his 3 for 43 hitting at the end. Jones hit 21 homers, drove in 67 runs and was a significant factor in the Angels' first-half success.

Jackson qualified for an option year by meeting statistical criteria in his original contract. He did it in 1984 and again in '85, when he led the Angels with 27 homers and tied Brian Downing for the RBI lead with 85.

Jackson wants to play next year but is seeking a raise on his $975,000 salary. He would also like an option for 1987.

Reggie could leave, rejecting the '86 option in favor of free agency, but he said Sunday: "I expect to be back. I expect it to work out. We're supposed to talk again after the World Series."

Jackson will be 40 in May. Carew, who returned from an early season foot fracture to collect his 3,000th hit and bat .280, turned 40 on Oct. 1.

"I had a strong season," he said Sunday. "But I don't expect to be back. I'd like to be back but I think they'll either move Doug (DeCinces) to first or go with a younger player (Daryl Sconiers or Wally Joyner). I could still be a safety valve for them, but I don't know where I stand."

Carew had hoped to play in a World Series for the first time, but his pursuit of that goal seems as star-crossed as Mauch's pursuit of his first pennant. He has managed for 24 years without one, but 1985 seemed to represent success rather than failure.

The Angels were last in the league in team batting. Only Beniquez (.304) hit .300 or better. Four players hit 20 home runs or more--Jackson, Downing, Jones and DeCinces--but no one had more than 85 RBIs. Jackson had only two RBIs after mid-September. Downing had only five hits in his last 37 at-bats.

Mauch employed 155 lineups in an attempt to keep his veterans fresh, his bench involved and his team on the scoreboard. He got game-winning hits from 15 different players and more than 40 come-from-behind victories.

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