BOSTON — A night off at last, the weary members of the Angel bullpen figured Wednesday night as they settled in to watch Mike Witt go to work on a five-run lead against the Boston Red Sox. Time to kick back, put a pinch between your cheek and gum and maybe check out the fights.
"They were brawling in the stands behind us," reliever Greg Minton said. "Some fans, going six-on-six. Cops were spraying Mace all over the place. We were having a great time."
It wouldn't last, however, because Witt couldn't. This is 1987, remember, when Witt no longer pitches into the seventh inning as a matter of fact or automatically closes out big leads or completes games as common favor to the bullpen. This Witt, given to tendinitis and mechanical breakdowns, was out of the game after 6 innings.
By the time the Angels had managed to wring out a tense 6-5 victory over Boston at Fenway Park, the Red Sox had the tying and winning runs on base, and Angel Manager Gene Mauch had exhausted 60% of his relief corps.
DeWayne Buice, who has made four appearances since the All-Star break, including two innings of work Monday, had to be called upon again when Witt tired in the seventh. Buice surrendered run-scoring hits to Jim Rice and Dwight Evans before ending the inning--only to wind up in more trouble in the ninth.
Trying to protect a 6-4 lead, Buice allowed a one-out double off the Green Monster to light-hitting second baseman Ed Romero. Not a good sign, thought Mauch, who gave Buice a reprieve and replaced him with Gary Lucas.
Lucas faced one hitter, but it was the Boston hitter--Wade Boggs. After three pitches, the count was 3-and-0.
But Lucas came back with a strike, and then got Boggs to loft a high fly to center field for the second out.
Having wriggled out of that one, Mauch summoned reliever No. 3, Minton, who was Monday night's winning pitcher. Minton's assignment: Retire Rice.
Rice, who already had a home run and two singles, wasn't ready to retire. He singled again off Minton, bringing home Romero, and bringing the Red Sox to within 6-5.
Then Minton was faced with Evans. He walked him on four pitches.
Mike Greenwell, needing a single to tie the game, looked at another ball from Minton before swinging at a 1-and-0 pitch. Greenwell made contact, and sent the ball high down the left-field line. Jack Howell settled under the ball, squeezed it and, finally, everyone on the Angel bench exhaled.
Not a pretty one, someone suggested to Mauch a few minutes later.
"There was nothing ugly about that," Mauch shot back, straight-faced. "It was damn hard work, but it wasn't ugly."
Beauty, obviously, is in the eye of the beholder. And, behold: With Wednesday's victory, the Angels wound up taking two of three from the Red Sox, their conquerors in the 1986 American League Championship Series, and finished their season series against Boston at 8-4.
"I feel good about that," Mauch said. "You got to feel good any time you can break even at Fenway (the Angels were 3-3 at Fenway in 1987)."
Mauch also insisted he was feeling good about Witt's performance--despite the home run he allowed to Rice in the sixth inning, and the three straight hits he allowed before his departure in the seventh.
Given a 4-0 lead after a half-inning and a 5-0 advantage after 4 1/2, Witt could not get out of the seventh inning. He gave up nine hits and four earned runs.
"He's struggling--all the way to 12-6," Mauch said. "He spoiled me the last couple of years. You get five runs for Mike Witt, and you can just sit back. That will happen again."
Witt retired the Red Sox in order in the fourth and fifth innings, but Mauch detected some warning signs in the sixth and seventh when Witt's breaking pitches lost some of their break.
"The roller showed up again," said Mauch, mimicking a slow curveball with his hand. "Instead of the snapper, the roller came back."
Said Minton: "Most of us in the bullpen figured we had the night off. Mike was cruising. But we're in the middle of a long road trip, it's hot and muggy and he ran out of gas. That can happen."
It nearly happened to the bullpen as well. Buice laid off his fastball and tried to get by with his forkball. Lucas barely escaped his meeting with Boggs. And Minton, as he put it, "was really fighting myself. That wasn't my best out there. I was real happy to see somebody catch that last fly ball."
Minton emerged with his eighth save and the knowledge that today, regardless, will be a day of rest.
Today is an off-day for the Angels.
"We will definitely give the bullpen some rest tomorrow," Mauch quipped. "They need it. The three days off for the All-Star break were marvelous. This day off will be great. With Don (Sutton) pitching Friday, one or two of them will be out there again, you know it."
And what will Buice do with the rare break?
"Sleep till 5," Buice said. "Go to the movies. Spend all my money.
"Or, I might catch a quick plane to the beach. There's a beach around Detroit, isn't there?"
Battle fatigue. It's not a pretty sight.