The lights from the cameras following Wally Joyner's every move have been blinding, and Wally World has been everyone's favorite hangout the past two months, so it's easy to see how certain developments with the Angels have been lost in the shuffle.
--An undermanned bullpen that remains one right shoulder away from blowing up in Gene Mauch's face.
--Gary Pettis' troubled first quarter of 1986. Pettis has been below '85 standards on the basepaths and in the field and continues not to hit from the left side of the plate.
--Doug DeCinces' slump.
--An underachieving starting pitching staff.
--A vulnerability to left-handed pitching that opposing teams cannot help but exploit.
All went largely unnoticed as the Joyner home-run watch entranced those who observed the Angels. The rookie's undeniably sensational feats, coupled with a lethargic start by the rest of the American League West, created the mirage that all was well with Mauch and Co.
Well, all is not well. That was proven on the team's just-concluded 3-6 trip through the AL East, which not only dropped the Angels to .500 (22-22) but also into second place behind--and this is not a joke--the Texas Rangers.
Currently 9-14 in May, the Angels have had losing streaks of four, three and five games this month. Had it not been for Joyner's latest act of heroism--a two-run, two-out, ninth-inning home run at Yankee Stadium Monday--the Angels would be taking a six-game losing streak into the eight-game home stand which begins tonight.
Now, the questions start to rise to the surface.
Is this just a bad month, something to be exorcised and eventually written off as one of those things? Or is this really just a .500 ballclub, sprouting leaks earlier than anyone anticipated?
For the record, Mauch ignores the negativism. After the Angels' fifth straight loss, which might warrant a few rattled walls and bruised egos by some managers, Mauch bit his tongue. After ending that streak with an 8-7 victory Monday, Mauch bubbled. "I know the Yankees aren't any better than us," he said. "But for the last 2 1/2 games, they've been a damn sight luckier."
Reggie Jackson sees a purpose to Mauch's methods.
"Gene knows where we're short," Jackson said. "But he's not going to discuss them for the benefit of other teams. He's not going to criticize his own players in print.
"This guy is not exactly a town idiot. He's had 40 years in the game. Maybe some of the things he does are unacceptable to some, but if he's going up against Secretariat with a nag, what can he do? If you don't have the tool box, you can't build a house."
Is that to imply Mauch lacks the necessary building materials?
Jackson said no. "We have to be a less more specialized," he said. "He has to platoon and rest players to get the most out of them. It's early. We won't have another spell like this one."
That line of thinking may be a tad on the wishful side. If the tool box is there, there's no denying that it is currently missing an instrument or two.
Some tools Mauch undoubtedly wishes he had:
--A Healthy Bullpen: Two-thirds of "the best bullpen in Angel history" has yet to throw a pitch this season. Stewart Cliburn, Donnie Moore's splendid set-up man last summer, remains on the disabled list in Edmonton with an ailing shoulder. Gary Lucas, the missing left-handed link imported from Canada, is still rehabilitating an injured back.
After Jim Slaton was thrown into the starting rotation, and after Ken Forsch's comeback attempt was pre-empted, Moore's supporting cast consisted of two rookies (T.R. Bryden and Chuck Finley), an Atlanta Braves castoff (Terry Forster) and Doug Corbett. Forster and Corbett were effective early but both were hit hard on the last trip. Forster has one save and a 4.67 ERA; Corbett has four saves and a 3.60 ERA.
That brings us to Moore, of who there has been less of in 1986. Moore leads the team with seven saves, but is 1-3 with a 5.21 ERA and has mishandled four save opportunities. His inconsistency has stemmed from a sore shoulder that has limited him to four appearances in May. After undergoing an arthrogram Tuesday, which entails a dye injection before an X-ray, Moore may not pitch again until June.
--Consistency at the Leadoff Spot: For two years, Gary Pettis earned his keep by stealing bases and by stealing the 11 o'clock sports highlights at least once a week with spectacular catches. So what if he didn't hit? Pettis' value lay in the 56 stolen bases and Gold Glove award he earned in 1985.
But with the second quarter of 1986 under way, Pettis is still in the gates on the basepaths. Before Monday, when he stole two bases, Pettis was 6 for 12 in steal attempts. Rickey Henderson is 31 for 36. Dick Schofield is 5 for 6.
And in the outfield, Pettis had made more news crashing into Brian Downing than by taking away extra-base hits. When you win a Gold Glove, certain behavior is expected from you.
When the balls start to drop and the great plays cease, the whispering inevitably begins.