One rookie was trying to save a victory for another rookie when the potential final out was hit in the direction of another rookie.
Sometimes, too many rookies can spoil the soup.
It happened Sunday afternoon at Anaheim Stadium when Angel rookie No. 3, left fielder Mark Ryal, misplayed a dying but catchable fly ball by Baltimore's Rick Burleson--letting it bounce in front of him and then past him, allowing two Orioles to score and turn a 2-1 Angel lead into a 3-2 Angel defeat.
Because of a moment's worth of indecision, Willie Fraser's third major league victory and DeWayne Buice's third major league save were wiped out. So, too, was the Angels' bid to win a three-game series for the first time in nearly two weeks.
Instead, the Orioles were handed two of the three games played at Anaheim and the Angels dropped into a third-place tie in the American League West, 2 1/2 games behind Kansas City.
Buice was working the top of the ninth with two outs, two runners on base and two strikes on Burleson, the ex-Angel who entered Sunday's game with a .174 batting average. Buice delivered what he considered a good forkball--"I thought I fooled him," he said--but Burleson got the end of the bat on it.
"I wish it had been more toward the middle," Buice would say later. "I thought it was hit harder than it actually was. I wish it had been."
That would have made it easier for Ryal, in left field after pinch-hitting for Darrell Miller in the sixth inning. Instead, Ryal had to decide what to do with Burleson's flare.
In Ryal's mind, there were two options:
--Attempt a diving catch while risking coming up empty and having the ball skip by him.
--Pull up, play the ball on a hop and try to throw the runner breaking from second base, Rene Gonzales, out at home.
As it developed, Ryal wound up with the worst of both options. Ryal pulled up . . . and still let the ball skitter under his glove.
The ball bounded all the way to the warning track and by the time Ryal could retrieve it, Gonzales and Terry Kennedy had scored and Burleson was on third.
"At the time, I thought about diving but I got hung up in between," Ryal said. "At the point of diving, I made the decision to stay back and play the ball on the bounce. I just couldn't shut it down in time. By the time I got ahold of myself, the ball got by me."
But, would Ryal have had to dive at all? Initially, it appeared Ryal would be able to make the catch on his feet--running in hard and gloving it at belt or knee level.
"It looked like he was going to shoestring it," Burleson said.
But Ryal hesitated slightly and you know what they say about those who hesitate.
"He charged, but he had his doubts," said Brian Downing, the Angels' regular left fielder before this season. "He hesitated to dive and stayed back on the ball, which is a good thought. He just got too close to the ball."
Downing smiled a just-one-of-those-things smile.
"I guess that means he's not gonna be a hockey goalie," Downing said.
According to Buice, however, the ball was "sinking fast and he would have had to dive for it. It would have taken a World Series-type catch, a Hall of Fame catch."
Buice, of course, happens to be Ryal's roommate.
"That's what roomies are for," Ryal said, managing a grin.
Ryal was dealing with his error and the consequent turn of events better than his manager, Gene Mauch. Mauch cut off his postgame interview before the first question could be asked.
"This is gonna be real brief," Mauch snapped. "Anything you write can't make that guy (Ryal) feel any worse and I'm not going to add to it."
Mauch then turned his back and hurried into his office. The next sounds to be heard were, in order: a profane statement, a slam of Mauch's bathroom door and a slam of his office door.
Left unanswered was why Ryal, a mediocre fielder, was kept in a 2-1 game when a possible defensive replacement, such as Ruppert Jones, sat on the bench. Jones is no Gold Glove player, either, but he possesses 10 years' major league experience.
As Burleson put it: "Ryal hasn't been out there too much. Pinch-hitting is his specialty."
When Ryal misplayed the ball, eight strong innings by Fraser unraveled. After pitching a 5-1 complete-game victory over Boston in his last start, Fraser allowed Baltimore just four singles and a solo home run by Terry Kennedy. He left after the eighth when his right shoulder began to stiffen.
"I started to get stiff in the seventh," Fraser said. "I told Marcel (Lachemann, the Angels' pitching coach), 'I think it might be a good idea to get somebody up.' I had no problem with Buicie coming in."
What about Ryal coming in on that ball?
"It was a bad break. What are you gonna do?" Fraser said. "I told Mark, 'Don't worry about it.' I could go out there and give up eight home runs the next time out. Mistakes happen."
Especially by rookies.
Which is why rookies tend to stick together, even when they sometimes happen to go down together.