Touchy stuff, this pennant race business. Even in the case of the Angels, who are presently bludgeoning the rest of the American League West, finesse still counts.
Sunday, during the Angels' 3-0 victory over the Chicago White Sox, John Candelaria, Reggie Jackson and Doug DeCinces demonstrated that there is a time for everything in its proper place. A time to push it, a time to pull back.
When to push it: When the hitter in front of you breaks a scoreless tie with a home run in the sixth inning. This happened to DeCinces, who watched from the on-deck circle as Jackson delivered career home run No. 547. Inspired, DeCinces then went up and hit the first pitch he saw over the left-field fence.
"It's kind of kind of a fun challenge," DeCinces said. "When the guy in front of you hits one, you want to follow it up and let it go, too. It almost enters my mind as soon as I step into the batter's box."
When to pull back: When you're pitching a one-hit shutout, striking out seven batters in six innings, and your elbow starts to twinge. This is the same elbow that was operated on in April and caused you to miss two starts in September. When this happened to Candelaria, he quickly bowed out.
"Why push it when it doesn't have to be pushed?" said Candelaria, who left his one-hitter after the seventh inning. "At the end of the sixth, (the elbow) felt a little tender. It wasn't a pain, but it was tight. I was ready to come out."
Take away Ivan Calderon's second-inning single and Candelaria insisted he would have felt the same.
"If I was pitching a no-hitter, I'd still come out," he said. "It would've been completely wrong for me to stay out there. No one is more important than the team; that's why a team wins the pennant.
"Although I may not sleep well, I'd come out in a minute."
Manager Gene Mauch didn't want to consider such hypothetical circumstances, but this was the week of Joe Cowley. No-hitters remain a hot topic at Anaheim Stadium.
So Mauch said, yes, he'd have pulled Candelaria from a no-hitter. "He's had a no-hitter before," Mauch said. "He winced. I don't like to see Candelaria wince."
That was in the top of the seventh, right before Candelaria got Tim Hulett to pop out to second base. Mauch visited the mound for an update and agreed to let Candelaria face two more batters. Harold Baines struck out and Russ Morman flied to center.
Mauch then brought on Donnie Moore, who yielded only a broken-bat single to Dave Cochrane in two innings. The save was Moore's 20th, the victory was Candelaria's eighth and the combined two-hitter gave the Angels their 87th win, lowering their magic number to five.
Chicago's Richard Dotson (10-16) allowed six hits in 6 innings, but wound up a loser when two of those hits cleared the outfield fences.
Jackson triggered things with his 17th home run of the year, sending a 2-1 offering into the second deck in right-center field. It was Jackson's sixth home run of September and it earned him a curtain call from the crowd of 25,322.
By the time Jackson had doffed his batting helmet and stepped back into the dugout, DeCinces was digging in against Dotson--ready to hit another out.
His cleared the left-field fence, giving DeCinces his 92nd RBI, which tied him for the team lead with struggling Wally Joyner. And the fans who had been standing for Jackson remained on their their feet, calling DeCinces out, too, for a bow.
"That was nice," DeCinces said. "I don't get many of those.
"Of course," he added with a smile, "most of those people were still cheering for Reggie and didn't see mine. They heard it, they just didn't see it."
In the locker room, Jackson and DeCinces also did some applauding. For one another.
Jackson on DeCinces: "I played with Sal Bando, who had great leadership qualities, and Graig Nettles, who was awesome defensively, but this guy is relentless on producing numbers. And he's out there every day. I enjoy playing with him."
DeCinces on Jackson: "Reggie's starting to swing the bat like he can again. He's getting into his 'zone.' And that's a major plus for our lineup."
Two minutes of offense were enough to make a winner of Candelaria, who improved his record to 8-2 by striking out eight and walking one in seven innings.
"That was John Candelaria," Mauch pronounced. "That was as good as a man can be."
But only for seven innings. Mauch and Candelaria weren't about to risk any more.
"There are still questions when I go out there," Candelaria said. "And after I pitch, it's sore. I don't know what tomorrow will bring.
"(But) I like to pitch. I like to be counted on. Maybe that's why I go out there."
The Angels' main concern is having Candelaria out there once the playoffs start, if and probably when. That's where the subject turns touchy.
"You watch John Candelaria and part of you says, 'Don't push too far, the arm's sore,' " DeCinces said. "But another part says, 'Push him, because he'll need to be pushed in Game 5 of the playoffs.'
"John has to walk a fine line."
So far, Candelaria has successfully straddled it. And the Angels have tagged along, right to the brink of their third divisional championship.
Doug DeCinces had to go a long way to catch Wally Joyner for the team RBI lead. On July 13, the last game before the All-Star break, Joyner had a 26-RBI lead on DeCinces, 71 to 45. But since the All-Star break, DeCinces has driven in 45 runs to Joyner's 20 and has overtaken Joyner for the club home-run lead, 25 to 22. In the eighth inning Sunday, DeCinces had the chance for the tie-breaking 93rd RBI--with Gary Pettis on second--but drew a walk from Richard Dotson. "I would have liked to have gone ahead," DeCinces said. "I was glad I was able to do it. It's a long season and Wally is struggling now. You've got to go all the way through it." . . . Add Joyner: He has hit two home runs since the All-Star break--none since Aug. 5--and has driven in just four runs since Aug. 23. Entering Sunday's game, he had gone 7 for 43 (.163).