The Ventura County Gulls began a new season this week, and for outfielder Darryl Landrum it was a welcomed chance to wipe the slate clean.
"It feels like it did when I first got here," said Landrum, who has been struggling at the plate since returning from an injury a month ago. "It's like it's a new year."
Landrum heralded the new year with four walks and his 12th home run of the season to lead the Gulls to a 13-inning, 3-2 win over the Visalia Oaks on Wednesday at Ventura College.
One of his walks came in the 13th, to put runners on first and second with one out. Greg Myers followed with a single to right field, scoring Luis Reyna with the winning run.
For Landrum, the game was reminiscent of the success he enjoyed early in the season. He was batting .358 and leading the California League with seven home runs before suffering a broken right thumb on April 22 when he was hit by a pitch during a game against the Fresno Giants.
After spending a month on the disabled list, the right-handed hitter returned to the lineup May 17. But until Wednesday's game, he had produced little more than frustration for himself and Gulls Manager Glenn Ezell, batting .188 with 3 home runs in his last 138 at-bats to drop his average to .240.
"The injury set him back a long way," Ezell said. "But if we continue to work with him, we can get him back to where he was. He just has to be patient at the plate."
Patience has never been a virtue for Landrum, who set a South Atlantic League strikeout record in 1985 with 208. When he first returned to the lineup, it seemed he was threatening to break his own mark.
"While I was out I picked up a lot of bad habits and tended to swing at pitches I can't hit," Landrum said. "They've been pitching around me, throwing sliders. They know what I can do with a fastball. So I've been sitting back, picking a slider that I like or whenever they throw a fastball, attacking that."
Landrum has been taking extra batting practice three times a week, and Ezell believes it has made him more selective.
"The last three games, he's been swinging the bat better than he was. He's shown more patience. I think he's got the potential to hit 25 home runs a year," Ezell said.
The Blue Jays liked Landrum's home run swing when they made him their sixth selection in the 1984 June draft. They signed him out of Calhoun Junior College in his native Alabama and sent him to the Medicine Hat Blue Jays, where he led the Pioneer League in home runs (17) while batting .239.
He moved up to Florence in the South Atlantic League in 1985, where his averaged dipped to .205 while his home run total climbed to 19.
"I was on and off, two good days and then I'd go 0-for-4 with two strikeouts," Landrum said. "That was really a learning year for me."
Landrum went through more schooling at the Instructional League, where he took extra batting practice for 2 1/2 months, working on hitting the breaking pitch.
It was a curveball that Landrum hit over the left-field fence Wednesday to give the Gulls a 2-1 lead in the fourth inning. Visalia scored a run off starter Jeff Musselman in the first when Tom Thomas scored from third base on a Tom Schwarz ground out. The Gulls tied it in the second inning on a sacrifice fly by Geronimo Berroa.
Visalia tied the game in the sixth on a two-out triple by Schwarz, who scored on a single by Eddie Yanes. Ventura County's Tom Wasilewski relieved Musselman in the ninth and held the Oaks hitless through four innings. Todd Provence (2-2), who came on to pitch in the 13th inning, got the win.
Ray Velasquez (0-3), who pitched to three batters in the 13th before being relieved by Wes Pierorazio, was the losing pitcher.
Dodger pitcher Steve Howe rejoined the San Jose Bees on Wednesday after being cleared of charges by the National Assn. of Professional Baseball Leagues that he was again using cocaine. John Johnson, president of the National Association, suspended Howe on May 15 after a disputed drug test. Howe is scheduled to pitch tonight against the Fresno Giants. . . . Oaks center fielder Tom Thomas was 1-for-6 and extended his hitting streak to 24 games, the longest in the league. The Long Beach native, a member of the Cal State Fullerton team that won the College World Series in 1984, is third in the league in batting at .328. . . . Gulls backup catcher Carlos Diaz, who joined the club two weeks ago, is being moved down to the Medicine Hat Blue Jays in the Pioneer League. Toronto selected Diaz, a member of the Oklahoma State team that participated in the recent College World Series, in the 14th round of the June free-agent draft. The Blue Jays want him to get more playing time, which will be tough with the Gulls, whose regular catcher Greg Myers is batting .313 and leading the league in home runs with 14.