BOSTON — Angel player emotions were battered and splattered, down for the count after Thursday night's 12th-inning knockout at Fenway Park. Forgiving those who had dropped infield pop flies, served up home run pitches and balked home the winning run was possible. Forgetting was somewhat harder.
To say a season hung in the balance Friday night was more than a shade melodramatic, but history has shown that the Angels do not deal well with this sort of adversity. Last September, the Angels blew a 5-0 lead in Cleveland and then limped on over to Kansas City, where their brittle psyches--and playoff hopes--shriveled up and died.
It was obvious that drastic action was needed. Manager Gene Mauch said as much. "We either need someone to assert himself with the bat," he said, "or on the mound. Tonight."
In the Angels' 5-0 victory over the Boston Red Sox before 35,497 at Fenway, Mauch got both.
Reggie Jackson asserted himself with the bat in a manner that had been all but forgotten in recent weeks. He resurrected his home run swing, twice in fact, hitting his eighth and ninth homers of the season off another future Cooperstown honoree, Tom Seaver. Jackson, with 539 career home runs, hadn't experienced the feeling since May 14, a drought of 130 at-bats.
And on the mound, Kirk McCaskill asserted himself. No one- or two-hitter this time; just a shutout against the team with the best record in the American League in a home run launching pad that masquerades as a baseball stadium.
McCaskill now leads the Angel staff in wins with a 10-5 record. He is 6-1 with a 2.60 earned-run average in his last seven starts. The victory increased the Angels' first-place lead in the AL West to 2 1/2 games, their largest advantage of 1986.
For Mauch, Jackson and McCaskill provided precisely what was ordered.
"Now I've got to get two nights' sleep in eight hours," Mauch said. "We got both the things we needed after that sick son-of-a-gun last night."
Jackson knew that something out of the ordinary was needed to erase the Angels' memories of Black Thursday. So the Angels' slugger-turned-singles-hitter went to Mauch before Friday night's game with a plan.
No more of this soft line drive stuff. "I'm going harder with the bat tonight," Jackson said.
His first time up against Seaver (4-7), Jackson went harder than he had in nearly two months.
On a 1-0 pitch, Jackson delivered the ball into the fourth row of seats inside the right-field foul pole. Jackson watched every inch of its flight. After taking a few steps toward first base, Jackson stopped in his tracks, staring at the ball, just to make sure.
"I hadn't hit one in so long," he said. "I thought to myself, 'Oh, this is the swing. Where have you been?' "
An inning later, Jackson struck out against Seaver. Three innings after that, he connected again--sending the ball over the bullpen beyond the center-field fence.
That left Jackson with nine home runs for the season, just 11 behind young protege Wally Joyner.
"My man Wally left me in the dust a long time ago," Jackson said. "For a while, I was tutoring him, but lately, I've been hanging on to his shirt tail. He's pulling me along.
"After the first (home run), I went over to Wally and told him, 'Just wanted you to see me do a few things before I left.' "
The Angels added three more runs--on RBI doubles by Doug DeCinces and Gary Pettis and Joyner's 69th RBI of the year--but on this night, McCaskill would need only one. He held the Red Sox to seven singles and a double, striking out six while walking two.
McCaskill was aware of the task at hand when he first stepped onto the mound. He wasn't just pitching; he was performing an exorcism.
"I was pretty depressed leaving the clubhouse last night," McCaskill said. "But what can I control? Only my pitches."
That would be enough. McCaskill allowed only one Red Sox baserunner to reach third, held Wade Boggs hitless in four plate appearances and struck out All-Star catcher Rich Gedman twice.
He tired noticeably in the eighth and ninth innings, but with the Angels' bullpen exhausted, Mauch summoned a new reliever for McCaskill.
"He didn't have much after the seventh, so he relieved--himself," Mauch said. The manager, who claims he used to use this same tactic on the Phillies with Jim Bunning, went on to explain this phenomenon.
"He changed his style. He went from the hard stuff to off-speed pitches, slow curves," Mauch said. "He became his own reliever."
Whatever it was, it worked. By game's end, McCaskill had his second shutout of the year, and the Angels' grip on first place was the firmest it had been all season.
Crisis? What crisis?