When Angels Manager Gene Mauch goes to his bullpen these days, he has a choice between a veteran left-hander who was released by another team this spring, a veteran right-hander who had five saves in the last three years and three rookies.
When Orioles Manager Earl Weaver wants a relief pitcher, he usually goes to a former Angel who has more saves (13) than the entire California staff (11). The irony doesn't stop there, though. Don Aase, who picked up his league-leading 13th save Friday night in Baltimore's 3-0 victory over the Angels at Anaheim Stadium, might not be where he is today if it weren't for Mauch.
But don't expect the 32-year-old right-hander to come over to the Angels dugout to offer thanks.
In the early days of the 1982 season, Mauch used Aase, who had been primarily a short man, in a series of long-relief situations, several of which were in cold weather. Aase developed elbow problems and went on the disabled list with "a muscular strain" on June 3.
He was reinstated on June 26 but, while throwing in the bullpen at Cleveland on July 17, he felt a sharp pain followed by a sensation "like my arm was on fire from the elbow down." He walked straight to the clubhouse, thinking he might never pitch again.
A couple of weeks later, in a biting reference to the sidelined Aase, Mauch told reporters that there comes a time when a pitcher has to take the mound with tears in his eyes and pain in his arm.
On Oct. 18, 1982, Dr. Lewis Yocum provided Aase with the ultimate response to Mauch's innuendoes when he removed a tendon from Aase's left wrist and attached it to his right elbow. No one could have pitched with a ligament torn to the degree of Aase's, although stress tests didn't indicate the severity of the damage and Yocum was 90% sure before the operation that he wouldn't have to transplant the tendon.
"I still have some mixed emotions about coming back here," said Aase, who grew up in Orange, still owns a home in Yorba Linda and was the first Orange County native to play for the Angels. "But that's all in the past. Gene and I had our differences, but we got along after that. You can't dwell on the past."
Aase's 1.16 earned-run average probably has Angel General Manager Mike Port thinking about the winter of 1984, though. That's when the Angels decided to let Aase, who didn't want to leave, become a free agent.
"They (the Orioles) took a helluva gamble and they won," Mauch said. "He threw the ball well for us his last year here, but they were willing to use him as a relief pitcher and treat his arm like he was a starter, giving him three and four days off between appearances."
They also were willing to give him $2.4 million for the next four years. It's money well spent, in Weaver's estimation.
All Aase did in 1985 was lead the Orioles in saves (14), wins (10) and games (54), while converting 14 of 19 save opportunities and keeping 26 of the 38 runners he inherited from scoring. And this season, he's been even more effective.
"Right now, we're 10 games over .500 and one guy has 12 saves," Weaver said before Friday's game. "If he messed up even half of them, we might not be in the race.
"His teammates have made those save opportunities possible, but he's been something ever since he's been here. And he's got some nice breaking pitches to go with that 92- to 93-m.p.h. fastball."
Wait a minute. Didn't Aase have the same reconstructive operation as Tommy John? Aren't guys with bionic elbows supposed to throw a bunch of off-speed junk and save their fastballs for pitchouts?
"I feel like I'm throwing as hard as ever," Aase said. "I need my fastball. I've been throwing the slider and curve for strikes this year--I think that's a key to my success so far--but I'm not a finesse pitcher."
Aase is certainly the same pitcher Doug DeCinces remembers.
"He's throwing as hard as ever, that's for sure," the Angel third baseman said. "He blew me away with a high fastball in Baltimore (last week). He showed signs of that the last year with us and he wanted to stay. . . . It's a shame."
With Donnie Moore on the disabled list until June 9, Mauch has to juggle veterans Terry Forster, who is nursing a stiff shoulder, and Doug Corbett or take a chance with rookies T. R. Bryden, Chuck Finley or Todd Fischer.
The Angels could certainly use Aase, but then maybe not in the way Aase feels he should be.
"My recovery has been amazing," Aase admitted. "The biggest factor was Dr. Yocum not letting me touch a ball for nine months. I have to be more cautious now, but it's not so much the number of appearances, it's the number of innings.
"And there are times when I just have to say 'No' to the manager. It's not easy, but sometimes I'll tell Earl I just need a day off. I've done it three times already this year."
The rest of the time, he's saying "No way" to opposing hitters. Aase has finished 20 of the 22 games he's appeared in, picked up 13 saves out of 16 opportunities and allowed just one run in his last 13 games.
"If I was guaranteed I could throw like that," Reggie Jackson said, "I'd get one of those operations right now."