BALTIMORE — The Angels came east, searching for a solution to their losing streak, and they thought they found one here Wednesday night.
They scored four runs in four innings to knock the dreaded Scott McGregor (20-7 lifetime against the Angels) out of the game, taking a 4-0 advantage.
They added two more runs on home runs by Jack Howell.
They had their best starting pitcher, Mike Witt, on the mound.
They still lost, 8-6.
If you want an idea of how sour things have turned for the Angels, you only needed to have been among the 18,895 in attendance at Memorial Stadium. And you really only needed to pay attention to the bottom of the fourth inning.
It was then that Witt, presented with a 4-0 lead against the Baltimore Orioles, suddenly and mysteriously transformed into Urbano Lugo.
He walked the first three batters he faced--.175-hitting Lee Lacy, Jim Dwyer and Cal Ripken, the latter on four pitches. He then got Eddie Murray to hit a grounder to first baseman Wally Joyner, who went to left field with his throw. Two runners scored, two more wound up in scoring position and the Orioles still had no outs.
Fred Lynn brought one more run home with a sacrifice fly. Ray Knight then sprayed an opposite-field double down the right-field line and the game was tied, 4-4.
Witt came back to walk Terry Kennedy, strike out Larry Sheets and walk Rick Burleson. That's five walks in one inning by one of the American League's top control pitchers in 1986.
Witt sneaked out of the inning without further damage by retiring Lacy on a force play. But that only brought on the fifth inning, which brought on the tie-breaking run.
In this inning, which Witt failed to finish, Dwyer singled, Murray walked and Knight singled in the go-ahead run. Witt left after that hit, unable to complete five innings for his second straight start and for the fourth time in 11 appearances.
The Angels were on their way to their fifth consecutive defeat and their 10th loss in their last 13 games.
"Unexplainably unexplainable" was the way reliever Gary Lucas, the eventual losing pitcher, summed up the latest episode. He talked about Witt, who hasn't won since May 11 and lasted just three innings in his previous outing.
"He's struggling," Lucas said. "Everything went right for Mike last year, but he's been on and off this year.
"It's frustrating from the standpoint that you have your ace out there, we've just lost four to the Yankees, he's the guy to right the ship--and he's in a rut."
Angel Manager Gene Mauch slammed a pack of cigarettes on his desk and said he didn't want to talk about Witt. "I don't want to remember tonight or anything in the past at this point," he said.
Pressed on the issue, Mauch admitted that Witt might be pressing.
"As I told him before the game, you can only win one game, you can't take care of the whole situation."
The whole situation, in regard to the Angels, is overwhelming at the present. With Kirk McCaskill and John Candelaria on the disabled list, Don Sutton struggling at 2-4 and Lugo back in Triple-A, Witt is the only member of the club's original starting five with a winning record (5-4) and his health.
"We had many streaks the last few years," Mauch said, "where you'd get Mike Witt four runs and it's in the books. It'll be there again."
Wednesday night, however, Witt left trailing, 5-4. And although Howell's first home run tied it in the top of the sixth, Lucas and Mike Cook gave that run back and more by the end of the seventh.
Lucas (1-2) allowed a run-scoring single to Ripken in the sixth and then did himself in in the seventh, dropping a potential double play ball at first base, a throw that would have ended the inning. Instead, the hitter, Kennedy, wound up at first and advanced to third on a double by Sheets.
Mauch called on Cook at that point. And before Cook could throw a pitch, the Orioles had another run.
As soon as he completed his warmup tosses, Cook stepped on the pitching rubber and then stepped off. Balk. Sheets scored from third and Baltimore led, 7-5.
Cook also surrendered a home run to Burleson in the eighth inning, negating Howell's second home run of the evening, coming in the top of the inning.
Losing streaks are made of pitching breakdowns such as this. And no one in the Angel clubhouse was taking it harder than pitching coach Marcel Lachemann, who answered reporters' questions with his head buried in his locker stall, staring blankly at the floor.
"Right now, I'm doing a very poor job of coaching," Lachemann said. "A guy like Mike Witt walks six guys. Lucas walks a .150 hitter (Mike Young in the sixth) and ends up having to pitch to Ripken. We get a balk.
"If I'm doing a job, that shouldn't happen. That's simple fundamentals, and fundamentals are my job. I've got nobody to blame but myself."
Is there a solution in sight?
"If we can get to the point where we can get a good solid pitching performance, it would take a load off everybody," Lucas said. "A complete game would get us over the hump."