To walk or not to walk. For baseball managers, that has long been the question--at least whenever the inning is late, the winning run is on third base and first base is open.
It is one of the game's finer points of debate. "There is no one way to do it," Angel Manager Gene Mauch said. "There are so many variables, we could stand here and talk about it until dark."
Twice during the Angels' recent trip, Mauch tried it one way--disdaining the intentional walk and pitching away. He escaped with a split.
Saturday at Anaheim Stadium, Chicago White Sox Manager Jim Fregosi tried it another way. With the winning run on third base and one out, Fregosi called for the intentional walk. Twice.
This is the more orthodox strategy, but it also has its dark side. Fregosi saw it in the bottom of the ninth inning when White Sox reliever Dave Schmidt's bases-loaded pitch got past catcher Ron Karkovice, enabling Wally Joyner to score the decisive run in the Angels' 8-7 victory before a crowd of 34,219.
It was a strange ending in what has thus far been a strange final home stand for the Angels: Eighteen Angel runs Thursday night, then a no-hitter by Chicago's Joe Cowley Friday night.
And now this--a passed ball after a double, a wild pitch and two intentional walks, giving the Angels a victory that, combined with Texas' 3-2 loss to Minnesota, lowered their magic number in the American League West to six.
Chicago had tied the game at 7-7 in the top of the ninth when Harold Baines hit home run No. 21, this one off reliever Donnie Moore. But in the bottom of the ninth, Joyner hit a one-out double off Schmidt and then took third base on a wild pitch to pinch-hitter Mark Ryal.
At that point, Fregosi had Schmidt, a right-hander, intentionally walk Ryal, a left-hander. Schmidt got the same instructions for Reggie Jackson, another left-hander.
That loaded the bases for Doug DeCinces. DeCinces has been the Angels' most dangerous hitter since the All-Star break--in the fourth inning of this game, he had driven in his 91st run of the season--but he is a right-handed batter, and, with runners on every base, that gave Chicago a chance for an out at any base.
Anyway, that was Fregosi's thinking.
But it all became academic when Schmidt's 1-and-0 pitch to DeCinces bounded out of the grasp of Karkovice and Joyner bounded home.
"I should have caught it," Karkovice said. "I wasn't crossed up. (Schmidt) had good movement on the ball, and I just took my eye off the ball."
Karkovice wasn't feeling too good about the matter. "We busted our butts all day," he said, "and to have that happen. . . . "
Mauch wouldn't come out and say it, but the picture of Schmidt's last pitch skipping by Karkovice was worth all the words the Angel manager had used earlier to defend his decisions in Cleveland and Chicago not to call for the intentional walk.
In those situations, Mauch explained, his pitcher hadn't been sharp, and Mauch didn't want a pitcher who wasn't sharp putting extra runners on base and forcing himself to have pinpoint accuracy with his pitches.
Was Saturday an example? Mauch nodded.
"Chicago obviously felt Schmidt could throw strikes and their catcher could catch Schmidt's palmball," Mauch said.
"That's the way it's been done 10,000 times. Nobody's ever figured out the right way. Like I've said before, when the winning run is on third and you're on the road, you're in trouble no matter what you do.
"You can use a five-man infield; you can walk people. Whatever you do has a hell of a chance of being wrong."
Karkovice's passed ball ended a game in which the Angels came back from deficits of 3-1 and 6-4, only to lose a 7-6 lead in the top of the ninth.
Two home runs by Tim Hulett--one in the second inning, the other in the fourth--off Angel starter Urbano Lugo gave Chicago a 3-1 advantage. In the bottom of the fourth, the Angels wiped out the deficit on a run-scoring single by DeCinces and a two-run single by Rick Burleson.
Two unearned runs and Karkovice's run-scoring single returned the lead to the White Sox, 6-4, in the top of the seventh. But again the Angels rallied, receiving power from an unlikely source.
Rob Wilfong, who had 2 hits in his previous 42 at-bats, hit a home run off Bill Dawley in the seventh. Then, in the eighth, he and Ruppert Jones contributed RBI singles--Wilfong's giving the Angels a 7-6 advantage.
Just happy to contribute, said Wilfong. "If I get hit by a pitch and reach base, I'm happy," he said.
Wilfong shrugged off the home run, his third of the season. "It was a lousy fastball," he said. "He didn't get it where he wanted it."
Wilfong doesn't help win many games by going deep. But stranger things have happened. Saturday's bottom of the ninth inning, for instance.