NEW YORK — One pitch away from the American League pennant in 1986, one game out of first place in 1985 and regarded again as contenders at the outset of the 1987 season, the Angels return home this morning, four days into the month of June, as a last-place baseball team.
After a 1-7 trip through the East that followed a 3-7 homestand, after a nine-game losing streak and a 4-16 record since May 11, the bottom finally gave way for the Angels Wednesday night at Yankee Stadium. While they were losing, 9-3, to the New York Yankees, the Texas Rangers were pounding the Chicago White Sox, 14-3, to rearrange the bottom of the AL West standings.
In seventh place, with more losses (30) than any American League team outside of Cleveland, are the Angels, who haven't been in last place this late in a season since Aug. 3, 1980.
The defeat that put them there was their 11th in 12 games. It offered really nothing new. Don Sutton failed to pitch out of the third inning for the second time in his last three starts. The Angel pitching staff surrendered nine runs--all of them in the first four innings, including six runs in the third. The Angel offense, forced to try to overcome a huge deficit one more time, could do no better than six hits off Dennis Rasmussen, Rich Bordi and Tim Stoddard.
General Manager Mike Port, who put this team together, was asked why it has fallen apart.
"According to my calculation, probably 25% of our roster is functioning to their capabilities," Port said. "It's not a matter of blaming anyone or finding fault. It's just a fact--75% of our guys are capable of playing a lot better than they are now.
"The reasons may be varied. Maybe some are pressing. Our pitching has been, at best, inconsistent of late...
"Personally, I know that Doug DeCinces is not a .220 hitter. I know Don Sutton is a winner. We're capable of doing a lot better with this roster. We're capable of an overall better performance--and that can be read any way you want."
What about the job done by the general manager? The club Port assembled for Manager Gene Mauch on Opening Day had six rookies and a total of 12 players with two years' major league experience or less on roster. In his off-season overhaul of the team, Port gambled heavily on youth.
Was it a foolhardy gamble?
Port responded to the question with another.
"Let's see, what's Reggie hitting?" Port asked, referring to ex-Angel Reggie Jackson, currently struggling around .200 for the Oakland A's. "I keep hearing things about the veterans who departed last year . . . Last year we were too old. Now we're too young. Maybe we're trying to find the middle ground.
"Well, when you talk about the younger element of our club, I assume you're referring to (Wally) Joyner, (Mark) McLemore, (Dick) Schofield, (Devon) White, some of the young pitchers who have fared well on occasion. Right now, I would not trade any of the young fellas on our club for any of the more experienced fellas we had here the last two years."
Wednesday, Joyner and White helped give Sutton an early 3-0 lead in the first inning. Joyner got an infield single and scored on White's two-run homer.
But before the third inning was finished, Sutton gave it back--and more. He surrendered a solo home run to Mike Pagliarulo in the second. And then, in the third, he yielded singles to Wayne Tolleson, Willie Randolph, Don Mattingly and Gary Ward.
All of them scored as the Yankees took a 7-3 lead.
Sutton was removed from the game after just 2 innings. His record had dropped to 2-6, his ERA had risen to 5.37.
Angel Notes Don Sutton's appraisal of his sixth defeat in eight decisions: "I have nothing worthwhile to tell you. We had a three-run lead, and I didn't stop them from getting them back. They saw some good pitches and they hit them. There are going to be nights like this. Dwight Gooden has them once in a while, too." But when the slumping pitcher is 42, instead of 22, doubt is quicker to creep into the picture, as Sutton conceded. "There's a higher tolerance when you're 22, 23 years old," he said. "When you're older, your options are somewhat limited. You pretty much figure you haven't discovered the fountain of youth." Angel Manager Gene Mauch kept second baseman Mark McLemore out of the starting lineup for the first time this season. "He's past due," Mauch said. "I don't think he's missed a game since the last week in March."