Mike Witt will probably never have to dust off mantle space at home for a Gold Glove award, but Friday night he lost a game to the Cleveland Indians, 6-3, when he made a defensive play that was too good for his own good.
With the score tied at 3-3 and runners on first and second in the top of the ninth inning, Cleveland's Brook Jacoby pushed a sacrifice bunt to the left of the mound--pulling in Doug DeCinces from third base, ready to make a charge and a throw.
But in a flash, Witt and his spindly 6-foot 7-inch frame came striding off the mound and intercepted the ball with his bare hand.
He turned and threw to the nearest base--third. But DeCinces, stunned and off the bag, could only backpedal, glove the ball and grope for the base with his foot.
The feet of Cleveland's Otis Nixon beat him to it, however. The Indians had the bases loaded with no outs.
Nixon then scored on Cory Snyder's forceout at third, and one out later, No. 9 hitter Fran Mullins delivered a two-run single to put the game away.
Witt (8-6) went down to defeat, victimized, in part, by his own extraordinary glove work.
"Mike Witt made as good a play on that ball as any right-handed pitcher around could make," Angel Manager Gene Mauch said. "He came off the mound in a shot."
Echoed DeCinces: "He made a great play. I know Mike has great range, but I came in to get the ball and get the sure out at first. I couldn't believe he was there."
Catcher Bob Boone was surprised, too. But when he saw Witt snatch the ball, he directed his pitcher to throw to first base.
"I'm screaming, 'Go to first!,' " Boone said, "but with 40,000 people in the stands, he couldn't hear me. It was a real fine bunt, and Doug broke in to field it. It's in a spot where, on any other field, the ball goes through to Doug.
"But here, the grass stopped the ball. It was a limbo area. He has no way of checking where the third baseman is, but after years of practice, he knows that on that play, he tries to beat the runner to third."
The only problem was that DeCinces wasn't on the base to field it. And Nixon, with a good jump on the play, beat the throw with ease.
"It's a tough play, just another variable of a baseball game," DeCinces said. "When he barehanded the ball, I had to bet back to the bag the best I could. I was in no man's land."
The play seemed to weigh on Witt's mind after he yielded the run-scoring grounder to Snyder. Then, after a ground out, came the two-run single by the .154-hitting Mullins.
"Sure, it was upsetting to him in that situation," Boone said. "He rolled a curveball to Mullins, and Mullins hit it in the hole."
The three runs in the ninth inning matched Cleveland's three runs in the first inning. Those came courtesy of a three-run home run by Mel Hall.
Witt pitched two-hit baseball between the first and last innings, but the bookends did him in.
Lineup changes contributed to the first six runs of the game--three by Cleveland and three by the Angels.
When Cleveland leadoff hitter Tony Bernazard was a last-minute scratch due to a stiff back, Indian Manager Pat Corrales moved Brett Butler into the top spot and Julio Franco, originally seventh in the order, right behind him. Butler and Franco both reached base in the first inning--and both scored on a three-run home run by Mel Hall.
Then, in the fifth inning, Angel emergency left fielder Jack Howell made his presence felt. With Brian Downing still hobbled by a sprained ankle, Howell made his first appearance in the outfield since 1983, when he was an underclassman at the University of Arizona, and handled one fly ball in seven innings.
More significantly, he handled Cleveland starter Don Schulze's final pitch of the evening. With DeCinces on second, Howell doubled off the wall in right-center to drive in one run and then scored the game-tying run on Bobby Grich's pinch single.
Gary Pettis started the rally by singling to center and stealing second, his 15th stolen base of the year. Pettis took third on an infield out and scored on Reggie Jackson's sacrifice fly to right.
DeCinces and Howell then delivered back-to-back doubles to pull the Angels to within 3-2. And when Grich greeted Cleveland reliever Bryan Oelkers with a single to left-center, the game was tied.
The Indians had taken a 3-0 advantage when Butler led off the game by beating out a bunt down the third-base line, Franco walked and, two outs later, Hall bounced his 12th homer of the season off the base of the second deck in right-center.
Through the next seven innings, however, Witt was in control. He allowed just two more hits through the eighth--a single in the fourth to Hall and an infield single by Joe Carter in the sixth.