With their 10-inning, 3-1 win over the Kansas City Royals Wednesday evening at Anaheim Stadium, the Angels proved once more that somebody, somewhere is on their side. Has to be.
A frustrated outfielder named Brian Downing comes to bat in the bottom of the 10th with one out and Dick Schofield on first. Downing says he hasn't much liked his swing these days. Then there's Royal pitching, which he says always gives him fits. He looks for a slider from reliever Bud Black and gets a fastball on a 1-2 count. Worse yet, he senses himself pulling out of the batter's box.
So, of course, he hits a home run that lands just outside the reach of Royal left-fielder Rudy Law.
On the Angel bench, Manager Gene Mauch happily watches Downing trot around the bases.
"If anybody else hits it," Mauch says, "it's probably not (a homer). Brian's that strong. But I wasn't sure, I'll put it that way."
Put another way, the Angels have lost just four of their last 21 games, and Wednesday they whittled the magic number to clinch the division title to nine.
All it took was an extra-inning game, Downing's heroics and impressive pitching performances from starter Don Sutton and later, Doug Corbett, who earned his fourth victory by shutting out the Royals in the eighth, ninth and 10th innings.
"That's the Corbett I know," Mauch said.
The other Corbett had been in a bit of pitching slump. But that was before he asked to throw batting practice to some of the Angel rookies in Chicago last Friday. He wanted Mauch and pitching coach Marcel Lachemann to examine his stride after delivering the ball.
Turns out it was off by six inches, which may not sound like much, but Corbett now swears by it. The Angels believe.
As for Sutton, who has allowed only two earned runs in his last 30 innings, the unwritten rule always has been this: 100 pitches--no more, preferably less.
So there he was, owner of a two-hitter through seven innings and a one-run lead. He had thrown 99 pitches and was in the middle of a confrontation with another old-timer of sorts, Hal McRae of the Kansas City Royals.
Pitch No. 100 arrives at the plate and then leaves, in a hurry, over the left-field fence. Tie score. Exit Sutton, dugout left.
"Ninety-nine good ones and one bad one," Mauch said, shaking his head. "Ninety-nine near-perfect pitches and one bad one."
Downing had an interesting game. Earlier, in the eighth inning with Schofield on first, Mauch signaled for him to sacrifice bunt. It was only the second time this season Downing has received such a sign. The bunt worked--Schofield reached second--but the rally died two outs later.
In the 10th, Downing did more than place his bat in front of ball--accidentally.
"I'm not swinging well enough to try to hit home runs right now," he said.
For most of the game, it didn't appear the Angels would need 10 innings or Downing's home run. After almost four innings, Sutton had a no-hitter working. Three up and down in the first, second and third innings and two outs in the fourth before Rudy Law sent a line drive over shortstop Dick Schofield's glove.
In the fifth, Sutton found himself with two outs and Bo Jackson on first, thanks to a fielder's choice. Jackson stole second and moved to third when catcher Bob Boone's throw bounced into centerfield. Sutton walked Jim Sundberg, but then struck out Buddy Biancalana to end the scoring threat.
Sutton would be tested twice more. He had runners on first and second in the seventh inning with two outs, but escaped without harm.
He was less fortunate in the eighth, when the Royals inserted McRae in place of the light-hitting Biancalana. Sure enough, McRae homered to left to tie the score, 1-1.
That would be all for Sutton, who was relieved by Corbett.
Sutton chose the right evening to be on his game. He would need every 1-2-3 inning, what with the Angel offense taking an infrequent game off.
It's not that the Angels didn't try. Mauch once again loaded his lineup with right-handed batters, the better to take advantage of the left-handed Royal starter Danny Jackson.
The strategy wasn't going anywhere until the fourth inning when Doug DeCinces stepped to the plate. Until then, Jackson had disposed of the Angels in order in the first inning and allowed one single in the second. And even in the third, when he gave up a bunt single to Gary Pettis and line-drive single to Schofield, Jackson was able to escape without damaging his prospective shutout.
But then came the fourth, and DeCinces, and one of the few noticeable mistakes Jackson would make all evening.
With the count 1-0, Jackson reared and threw. DeCinces quickly sent the ball deep toward left, beyond the green fence and into the red seats for his 24th home run of the season and 90th run-batted in.
Rookie Wally Joyner may indeed win the Angel Most Valuable Player award and possibly be named the American League Rookie of the Year, but DeCinces must be considered as a strong candidate as MVP. Consider the numbers: