ARLINGTON, Tex. — Individually and collectively, Don Sutton and the Angels came to Texas this week pondering the same set of questions:
--Can the slump be broken?
--Can the season be salvaged?
--Is a turning point in sight?
--Or is it time to turn your back and give it up?
In his last nine starts, Sutton had won once. With June on the verge of melting into July, this winner of 313 games was only 3-8 in 1987. And the Angels were in sixth place, 7 games below .500 and 8 1/2 games out of first.
"It was getting to the point," Sutton said, "where it was get a win or get another job."
Today, Sutton remains employed as a major league pitcher. And after Wednesday night's 4-1 victory over the Texas Rangers, both Sutton and the Angels are feeling better--if ever so slightly--about things.
The four-hitter Sutton and DeWayne Buice recorded before an Arlington Stadium crowd of 17,218 completed a three-game sweep of the Rangers. The Angels have won four straight, equaling their longest winning streak of the season, and are back within four games of .500, equaling their highest standing of the month.
Sutton, meanwhile, won for the second time since May 5. He is 4-8 after limiting Texas to 3 hits and 1 run through 7 innings.
For both Sutton and the Angels, it may not sound like much but it is, as they say, a start.
"I can't tell you what's going to happen next, but tonight was a much-needed shot in the arm," said Sutton, who is tied for 12th with Gaylord Perry on the all-time victories list with 314.
"I probably have a higher set of expectations than Gene Autry and Gene Mauch have for me. I'm also pretty much results-oriented. The results have not been what I like to see lately. You start wondering about what you're doing--'Is this good enough?' "
Mauch, the Angels' manager, admitted to the same thought process.
"When a guy gets to be 41, 42, you start wondering," Mauch said. "Whenever you don't win for a while, you wonder. With a young kid, it's, 'Can I do it?' With an older guy, it's, 'Can I still do it?'
"Don Sutton knows he can do it, but he needs reinforcement from time to time. Like a win. When you're used to winning as often as he has, and you go a while without winning, it begins to gnaw at you."
Sutton got this victory with help from a few unlikely sources. Dick Schofield, a .205-hitting shortstop, drove in two runs, including the decisive one--his first game-winning RBI since last Aug. 29.
Mark McLemore, a .230-hitting second baseman, doubled home another run.
And then there was Buice. When Sutton threw his 101st pitch, reaching his quota for the evening, Buice came on to pitch the eighth and ninth innings, limiting Texas to one bloop single and earning his fifth save.
This came just two days after Buice pitched 4 innings in a 7-3 victory over the Rangers, nearly hyperventilating in the fearsome Texas humidity in the process.
"How's the weather in Chicago?" Buice wanted to know, referring to the Angels' next stop. "It's got to be cooler than this. When I got to the park today, it was 95 degrees. A couple seconds later, it's 98. By midnight, I figure it's going to be 113."
Actually, temperatures fluctuated between 90 and 96. Buice persevered, quaffing electrolyte solution between innings and then relying on an off-speed pitch, the forkball, during innings.
After the Angels had retired to the relief of their air-conditioned clubhouse, they took time to kick back and reflect on their Texas sweep. This time last year, the Angels also swept the Rangers at home--three victories that vaulted California into third place in the American League West.
A year later, it was same time, same result . . . but not the same place. The Angels find themselves in fifth, still 8 games behind Minnesota.
"Last year," Mauch said, "we were well over .500 at this time. Right now, we're fighting just to get into position.
"We're sitting here, talking like we've done something. We haven't done nothing. We're not in the position to do anything yet. "
Added catcher Bob Boone, who had two hits in Wednesday night's win: "This isn't similar to last year. We're eight games out, and Minnesota keeps winning. We have so far to go to get over the hill, we can't dwell on it."