OAKLAND — Strange third inning at the Oakland Coliseum. A runner advances to second base after striking out on a wild pitch. A run scores on a check-swing single that parachutes over the fringe of the infield. Another run scores on a double-play ball that the second baseman kicks to the shortstop.
On the mound is Mike Witt. History has shown that this type of adversity does not agree with Witt.
Give Witt a ninth-inning showdown with George Brett or Don Mattingly and he'll pin-point a curveball on the outside corner for strike three. The big stuff he can handle.
But when little things go awry, Witt can unravel. It happened again Sunday in the Angels' 11-7 loss to the Oakland A's. It was not a pretty sight.
A strikeout by Oakland's Alfredo Griffin in the bottom of the third started the mess. Griffin swung at strike three in the dirt, but when the ball bounced and skidded past catcher Bob Boone to the screen, Griffin was able to sprint to second base.
Witt then walked the next batter, .071-hitting Mickey Tettleton, on four pitches.
Then, Tony Phillips tried to get out of the way of another Witt offering, rising up and in, when his bat got in the way. A bloop single fell beyond third base and Oakland led, 1-0.
Then, Witt got the ball he needed--a potential double-play dribbler by Bruce Bochte to second. Only second baseman Rob Wilfong did a Pele impression with the baseball long enough for Tettleton to score and Bochte to reach third.
That just about did it for Witt. He gave up four runs in the inning--on just two hits. He allowed another run in the fourth. And in the fifth, he served up a three-run home run to Jose Canseco.
With one out in the fifth, Witt was gone. So were the Angels, down 8-2 and on their way to a series-ending loss in front of a crowd of 17,677.
The rap on Witt in scouting reports during his trial runs through the American League was that he loses concentration easily. That was the rationale why this strapping kid with the monster curveball wasn't a big winner.
Witt is now 25, beginning his sixth season in the major leagues. "When you've been in the big leagues five years and you're earning $700,000 a year, it's your responsibility not to let anything get to you," Angel Manager Gene Mauch said.
"I don't know that it did," Mauch added. "It was quite obvious he wasn't sharp."
Witt admitted that the quirks of the day did begin to weigh on his mind after a while.
"It's easy to have one thing go wrong and get right back into it," Witt said. "You shake it right off. But when something else happens right after it, it's hard not to think about it.
"You tend to start throwing differently. You try to throw the ball into a tea cup, you start aiming the ball. I started thinking I had to do it myself."
Witt said he shook off the first in the chain of fluky events, the wild pitch on the third strike to Griffin.
"That really didn't bother me," Witt said. "I thought they'd move him over on an out and score him on a fly ball. That'd be one run."
Witt could deal with that. But then came the bloop single, the error by Wilfong.
Soon, Witt was walking Tettleton again on four pitches, failing to knock down another potential double-play ball in the fourth inning, throwing a home-run ball to Canseco in the fifth.
"That's when it gets harder," Witt said. "For me, anyway."
Boone summed up Witt's outing as "a struggle. He didn't have real good stuff, but we got him into trouble in the third. We sure didn't help him much.
"That's part of baseball. If you don't get it done, you move on to the next pitch. That's the difference in the Steve Carltons of the world. Carlton is impervious to that. The next pitch is all that matters to him."
The next pitch kept getting Witt into trouble Sunday.
The game got out of hand on Canseco's home run and reliever T.R. Bryden let it slip away altogether in the sixth, as the A's scored three runs.
Although the Angels eventually scored 7 runs on 12 hits, they never had a chance.
"If Mike Witt is pitching and we score seven runs for him, I'd like to know that all the time," Mauch said.
Seven is usually more than enough for Witt. Unless, as on Sunday, the little things get him down first.