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Mike Downey

Less Moore May Mean More Saves

September 03, 1986|MIKE DOWNEY

As soon as Donnie Moore started complaining, somebody put a crab in his bed.

It happened in Baltimore, the nation's crabital, on the Angels' most recent trip. It happened just when Moore was beginning to wonder if Manager Gene Mauch was ever going to give his sore-armed and dangerous relief pitcher some relief.

Already feeling overworked, Moore had been summoned from the bullpen in a Thursday game at Detroit, with his team hanging on to a nail-biting 6-1 lead. The very next night, the Angels were clinging to a precarious 7-3 advantage at Baltimore. Again, Moore got the call.

Were he a middle-inning man, a "hold" specialist as he was nearly a decade ago when he and Bruce Sutter were with the Cubs, Moore might not have minded being used this way. Also, had his arm not been full of cortisone, baseball's legal pharmaceutical pick-me-up, Moore might have welcomed the chance to pitch.

But he is a late-inning reliever, one who has racked up 49 saves since joining the Angels last year. And he practically has become the Marquis de Cortisone in attempting to survive the rest of this season for the Angels--without having his arm, or their butts, end up in a sling.

Anyway, the Baltimore game got away from him. The Orioles scored five times and won it. And Moore felt bad. He thought the oomph of his split-fingered fastball had been missing, a possible symptom of a tired arm. He said that someone more rested could have been used to close out the Orioles.

Since Moore sounded so unhappy about being shelled, a prankster sportswriter slipped into the pitcher's hotel room, removed a crab from the doggy bag he had taken from dinner, then placed it between Moore's bed sheets--crab-cracking mallet included.

Moore, with a good sense of humor, kept the mallet. He was still a little crabby by the time the team had moved on to New York--"I'd be a good pitcher with a day off once in a while," he said at one point--but because the Angels almost immediately peeled off a seven-game winning streak, Moore began to feel a whole lot better.

He began to look better, too. While blowing away the Tigers to complete a four-game sweep at Anaheim Stadium last Sunday, Moore's hot stuff was smoking. And he was pretty chipper afterward, saying: "That's the first time I really felt good out there for a long while."

If Donnie Ray feels right, he can be the difference between a good team and a championship team. Recent World Series winners have had bullpen bullies such as Sutter, Willie Hernandez and Dan Quisenberry. This year's contenders have one-man armies such as Dave Smith of Houston, with 27 saves, or hot combinations such as Roger McDowell and Jesse Orosco of the Mets, with 35 saves between them.

People forget, but the Angels finished only one game out of first place last season--one game behind Kansas City's World Series champions. On Sept. 28, Mauch removed Don Sutton from a game at Cleveland after seven innings with a 5-0 lead, and Moore failed to hold it. The Angels lost the game, and possibly the season, 7-5.

In sort of a giddy mood last Sunday, Moore said he would rather forget about that recent business at Baltimore or the blowup last season at Cleveland.

"(Bleep) Baltimore," is what he actually said, expletive deleted. "(Bleep) Cleveland. Let's not dote on the past."

When you labor in obscurity for the Cubs and Braves for as long as Moore did, forgetting the past is a reasonable attitude to take. One of baseball's great bargains, Moore was fished from a free-agent compensation pool in January, 1985. He proceeded to save 31 games for the Angels--which was three more than he had saved in his 10 previous big league seasons.

Moore, 32, said he is willing to make sacrifices if it means "finally getting that (World Series) ring on my finger." He is willing to take shots and willing to work, within reason, when his arm itself is almost shot.

"I'm not living dangerously," he views it. "I'm living carefully."

The fact that the Angels are in the thick of a pennant race matters not, Moore contends. "It doesn't matter to me what inning it is or what the score is, because I want to do well every time I'm out there," he said. "I want to be successful, same as anybody. I want a raise, same as anybody. Even if we were 20 games out, I'd be trying hard."

But his arm can only take so much. Moore knows it, and he hopes the Angels know it. Yet, there he was again Tuesday night, mopping up for Don Sutton for two innings in a 10-1 Angel romp.

During the New York portion of the recent trip, while still smarting over the events of Baltimore, Moore said: "This team has had a lot of guys who signed for three years and got only one good year out of them. I was heading in that direction. There are other guys on this team who can get people out."

Mauch wishes he could be sure of that. The Angel bullpen beyond Moore has been about as dependable as do-it-yourself plumbing. It has as many sieves as saves.

The trouble is, Moore has been stubbornly determined never to refuse an assignment from Mauch, because it might not look right. "I'm not going to turn the ball down," he said. "I'm not going to knock him for having confidence in me."

His idea seemed to be to get the Angels to understand that he did not want to pitch, without actually having to tell them that he did not want to pitch.

So, this is what the Angels will have to do, from now on. Live carefully, not dangerously. Pitch him only when it is absolutely necessary.

In other words, if they want more Moore saves, they must save Moore more.

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