The Great Vern Ruhle Comeback was interrupted by flashback Wednesday night. As the Minnesota Twins helped remind the Angels during a 6-2 victory at Anaheim Stadium, there are reasons why Ruhle was 3-19 during the last two seasons and unemployed before the start of this one.
Base hits, home runs and 5-0 deficits had something to do with it.
After holding the Seattle Mariners to three earned runs in 14 early August innings, Ruhle tried out his 35-year-old repertory of off-speed noodling on another American League franchise. The Twins looked it over for 4 innings and saw it was not-so-good.
By bunching five singles together in the second and third innings, Minnesota assumed a 2-0 lead against Ruhle. By the top of the fifth, the Twins were ready to stretch things out a bit.
Kirby Puckett reached the right-field seats for his 23rd home run of the season, and Kent Hrbek placed another ball in the same general vicinity for his 24th.
When Gary Gaetti followed with a sharp single to left, Angel Manager Gene Mauch decided to abort the experiment for the evening. On came Chuck Finley for his first appearance since Aug. 2. Before Finley brought a close to the fifth inning, Mark Salas had contributed a two-run single.
The damage assessed to Ruhle: 5 earned runs, 8 hits and 2 home runs in 4 innings.
After two trials as the Angels' fifth starter this season, Ruhle is 1-1, both in results and in aesthetics. Is it time for a sixth candidate? Does the farm system run that deep?
Mauch said it was no time for action.
"I don't think people realize how well he pitched for those first four innings," Mauch said of Ruhle. "His breaking stuff got a little high in the fifth, but he pitched well for those first four."
Will Ruhle see the light of a third start?
"Oh, yeah," Mauch said.
Still, it was not difficult to notice the score that flashed on the Anaheim Stadium message board about the time of Ruhle's removal.
Yankees 4, Indians 0. Winning pitcher: Tommy John.
John used to be a fifth starter around here. So did Ron Romanick, who allowed three hits in 6 innings for Triple-A Edmonton on Wednesday night.
But enough of the past. As for the present, the Angels still have trouble hitting left-handers.
They saw another one in Minnesota's Frank Viola (13-8), who limited the Angel offense to one hit through six innings and five hits through nine innings.
The Angels also took some other good swings, but Minnesota outfielders negated their impact.
The Angels' first hit had home run distance and height but was reduced to a mere double when the Twins' Randy Bush leaped above the bullpen gate in left field to knock down Dick Schofield's first-inning fly. Bush swatted the ball back onto the field, holding Schofield to two bases.
Schofield remained at second when Brian Downing's ensuing bid for extra bases was foiled by a flashy, running catch by center fielder Puckett.
Puckett later denied two more Angels of hits--Rick Burleson in the second inning and Bobby Grich in the third. Puckett snared Grich's ball barely a foot off the outfield grass.
"I'm a little tired now, thanks to Frankie Viola," Puckett said after the game. "But that's what I'm paid to do. My job is to catch anything I can."
Viola is grateful for such job descriptions.
"Kirby was all over tonight," he said. "Even the balls that were well-hit, he was there for them. It makes your pitching that much easier."
The only runs the Angels scored came when George Hendrick put the ball where Bush and Puckett couldn't track it down. Hendrick followed Doug DeCinces' seventh-inning double with a home run to left, his 10th of the season.
But after that, the Angels could manage only a pair of harmless singles--Grich in the eighth inning and Hendrick in the ninth.
Viola went on to beat the Angels for the third straight time, improving his record against California to 6-3. Not exactly Bert Blyleven, but it's a start.
The Angels can only be thankful that Viola can't add to that streak until 1987. The Angels are through with Minnesota for the season. They wound up 7-6 against the Twins.
Next up: The Oakland A's. And then, after that, the real test: Next Tuesday, when the Angels have to trot out their fifth starter one more tentative time.