SEATTLE — The Angels' first stop on their dome-storming tour of the American League West wasn't quite a catastrophe, but it was close. Seattle's Kingdome nearly sabotaged the Angels' stretch drive before it got started. It was the site of three straight California defeats before Sunday's 7-5 victory over the Mariners.
"I've walked out of this place laughing before," Angel Manager Gene Mauch said after a Seattle sweep was averted. "Now, I'm barely smiling."
Despite this triumph--brought to Mauch courtesy of Bill Buckner (game-tying pinch-single), Mark McLemore (game-winning triple) and DeWayne Buice (three innings of grind-it-out relief)--the Angels lost three games in the standings to first-place Minnesota during their stay in Seattle.
What was that about a showdown series in the Metrodome? All the Angels can do now is slow down the Twins. Beginning Tuesday, they play three games at Minnesota and they trail the Twins by 3 1/2.
Even with a sweep, the Angels will come home no better than in second place.
"What's done is done," said McLemore, whose two-run AstroTurf triple broke a 4-4 tie in the eighth inning. "There's nothing we can do about these games now. The idea is to get as many W's as we can. Hopefully, we'll have enough at the end of the season."
No one understood the significance of the Seattle series better than Mauch, whose mood darkened increasingly with each loss. He wanted to have a shot at first place by the time the Angels reached Minnesota. Seattle was supposed to set up that shot.
Instead, the Angels shot themselves in the foot. By Sunday morning, Mauch could hardly bring himself to utter a sentence to reporters.
"I'm all talked out," he tersely told one writer. "We got to win some games. Can't do that with my lips."
After one victory had been salvaged, Mauch loosened up enough to put together a few remarks.
"It was pretty damn important to win that game," he said. "I sure as hell didn't want to be swept into Minnesota. I wanted to go in there with a better frame of mind than what we would've had if we hadn't pulled this one out."
The Angels had to pull hard to win this one.
They scored runs in the first and second innings, only to fall behind, 3-2, on Phil Bradley's run-scoring double and Alvin Davis' two-run homer off Don Sutton in the third inning.
They came back to tie at 3-3 on a bases-empty home run by Gus Polidor, only to give the run back when Buice surrendered a run-scoring double to John Moses in seventh.
Finally, in the eighth inning, the Angels broke through. They scored four times against three Mariner pitchers, assuming a lead for only the fourth time in the series.
Devon White lead off with a double against reliever Mike Trujillo, who had previously worked 3 hitless innings. Trujillo then struck out Bob Boone before Seattle Manager Dick Williams replaced him with Dennis Powell.
Powell faced one hitter, Jack Howell, and walked him. That brought on right-handed Edwin Nunez, which brought out left-handed pinch-hitter Buckner.
Buckner laced a single through the middle that scored White with the game-tying run. Then, with Howell on second and pinch-runner Gary Pettis on first, McLemore lined a 2-and-2 pitch by Nunez to left-center field.
Center fielder John Moses moved in to field the ball on the bounce, but that bounce sent the baseball sailing over Moses' head. Moses barely got his glove on the ball and by the time he retrieved it, both Howell and Pettis had scored and McLemore was diving into third base.
McLemore scored on a sacrifice fly by Brian Downing and the Angels took a 7-4 lead into the bottom of the eighth.
"I'm glad we gave DeWayne Buice a little room," Mauch said. Buice, who hadn't pitched since Wednesday, needed that margin for error, for he opened the ninth inning by yielding a home run to center field to Mike Kingery.
Buice then recovered to strike out Rey Quinones and Moses and retired Harold Reynolds on a fly to right field.
Buice was credited with the win, making him 5-3, and admitted he was fortunate.
"I could've gotten a loss easily," he said.
Mauch, who spent most of July searching for ways to rest Buice, grinned and shook his head when asked if Buice's layoff had been too long.
"It's either not enough rest or too much," Mauch said.
Buice, though, didn't mind sitting out the first two games of this series, which were 15-4 and 14-0 Angel defeats.
"I'm glad I didn't get into those," Buice said. "Those guys (the Mariners) could've hit blindfolded the other night."
The pounding of Angel pitching finally relented long enough for the Angels to sneak out of the Kingdome with a victory. Next up: The Metrodome.
"This one was very important," McLemore said. "We lost three in a row, we're coming in to play the first-place team, we're losing ground. This was one of our more important games of the season.
"We had three l-o-n-g days here. But I've seen worse. Show me a club that hasn't lost three in a row."