Brian Downing has the body of a weightlifter, the mentality of a football player and the uniform of a baseball player--which can make for great fun under the proper set of conditions.
Sunday, during the Angels' 7-2 victory over the New York Yankees, the conditions were very right. Bright sun, dry air, a lot of Yankee line drives to left field and a left-handed pitcher for New York.
Welcome to a Downing Day Afternoon:
--First inning, runner on first base. Downing sends a Dennis Rasmussen pitch over the left-field fence for his 17th home run and a 2-0 Angel lead.
--Second inning, runner on first base. New York's Henry Cotto hits a sinking line drive to left. Downing thinks he has a shot at it, so he runs in, falls to his knees and lunges for the ball. The ball lunges away, bounding past Downing's grasp all the way to the wall, allowing Ron Kittle and Cotto to score and tying the game at 2-2.
--Fourth inning, runners on first and third. Downing drives another Rasmussen pitch to right, scoring Gary Pettis to prolong an eventual four-run inning for the Angels.
--Sixth inning, runner on first. Downing lines one more ball to right. Only Yankee second baseman Bryan Little intercepts this one, picking off the ball and Dick Schofield off base for a blink-your-eyes double play.
Interesting game for Downing.
But ask Downing about it and he'll shrug. Life is full of such little surprises when you play full-contact baseball.
"I play aggressive," Downing explains. "I've won some and I've lost some over the years."
The key, Downing says, is winning the majority of them, which he felt he accomplished Sunday.
"I won my own game, 3-2," he said with a grin.
The three runs driven in by Downing overcame the two runs he let skip away. Thanks to the combined eight-hit pitching of Don Sutton, who won in the 700th start of his career, and Gary Lucas, the Angels allowed New York no other runs and improved their lead in the American League West to 7 1/2 games over Texas, which lost to Kansas City.
Sutton (14-9) worked the first six innings to earn career victory No. 309, which moved him past Charles Radbourn into 12th place on the all-time list. Lucas finished the last three innings for his second save.
Angel Manager Gene Mauch summed it up as "a beautiful day at the ballpark." He even found a certain pristine grace in Downing's second-inning pratfall in shallow left field.
"My first words to him when he came back to the dugout were, 'Attaboy Brian,' " Mauch said. "I know what he was trying to do. The man plays that hard every single day, every single inning.
"Nobody who has ever watched the Angels play can have nothing but positive words for every move Brian Downing makes--other than doubling over with a cough."
Downing is still bothered with a case of viral bronchitis, but he claims it doesn't affect his play. Doctors prescribed a throat spray, but Downing has shelved the bottle. He has lost 20 pounds but maintains, "I have enough left to carry me through."
He has been able to block out the sickness . . . at least better than he blocked Cotto's ball Sunday.
"I saw it come off the bat and I saw it well," Downing said. "I tried to block it, but it just got by me.
"I'm glad I made the attempt. If I had laid back and it had fallen in and they go on to score six runs, I'd have had bad dreams for a long time. I feel a lot better for it. If you miss it, you're a bum but if you let it fall, you're a bum. I'd rather play aggressive."
The play, which wiped out Downing's two-run home run, played heavily on his mind during Downing's next trip to the plate, in the third inning.
"I was definitely fired up," he said. "I wanted to get up the next inning. Unfortunately, I walked."
All that pent-up frustration was released in the fourth, when Downing lined his run-scoring single to right. It was his third RBI of the day, lifting his season total to 79.
Downing's single was one of five hits that drove Rasmussen (14-5) from the game and broke the game open. Pettis had a two-run double, and Doug DeCinces, suddenly challenging Wally Joyner for the club RBI leadership, drove in his 85th run on a fielder's choice.
An inning later, George Hendrick added his 13th home run. The Angels were on their way to the 11th win in their last 13 games, wrapping up their second consecutive 8-2 homestand.
More significantly, the Angels completed their 19-game run against longtime AL East nemeses Detroit, Baltimore and New York at 13-6.
"If you'd had offered me a contract for 13-6 beforehand, I would have signed it," Mauch said. "A lot of people said that if we would win 10 of those, we'd be doing very well. We didn't feel that way. We would have been three miles further from 90 (victories) if we'd have settled for 10."
The Angels are 12 games shy of Mauch's great goal with 26 to play. All that's left on the schedule are two teams with losing records (Chicago and Kansas City), one at .500 (Cleveland) and Texas.