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A Very Key Decision Helps Blue Jays to 2-0 Win Over Angels

August 23, 1987|MIKE PENNER | Times Staff Writer

The Toronto Blue Jays had just lost the previous night to Jerry Reuss, had fallen percentage points behind the Detroit Tigers in the American League East and were due to face 15-game winner Mike Witt, but was Toronto Manager Jimy Williams worried?

Angel Manager Gene Mauch got his answer Saturday afternoon when Williams phoned to tell him that he was changing pitchers, scratching Toronto's best, Jimmy Key, and replacing him with a 24-year-old rookie named Jose Nunez.

"He called me about 2:30 and told me Key had already pitched 200 innings this year and this was a chance to give him 10 days' rest," Mauch said.

Williams was clearly thinking ahead, preparing Key for the heavy September push that awaits him, but he also left the present in fairly good hands. Nunez responded with 6 innings of two-hit baseball as he and Tom Henke combined to shut out the Angels, 2-0, before an Anaheim Stadium crowd of 34,209.

Nunez (2-1) limited the Angels to an infield single by Wally Joyner in the second inning and a two-out double by Jack Howell in the sixth.

Howell also had the Angels' third and final hit of the night, a ninth-inning double off Henke, who worked 2 innings to earn his 30th save.

Williams gambled with Nunez, who had bombed out in his previous trial as a starting pitcher. In his first four August appearances, two as a starter, Nunez had compiled a 7.00 ERA, walking nine batters in nine innings.

This was the man Williams started instead of Key, who leads the Blue Jay starters in wins (14) and ERA (2.93). But Key has been pitching with a tired arm, and Williams figured that skipping his turn against the Angels, the 25th-ranked hitting team in the major leagues, was as good a time as any.

And he was right.

"Evidently, their guy was pretty good," Mauch said of Nunez. "I was surprised we didn't do a little better against him."

The Angels did virtually nothing against Nunez as they failed to capitalize on first-place Minnesota's loss earlier in the day, remaining 4 1/2 games behind the Twins. Nunez allowed just two runners to reach second base and retired the Angels in order in three innings.

Half of the Angels' offense against Nunez came when Joyner led off the second by drilling the ball off Nunez's ankle. It skipped toward shortstop, and Joyner beat out the play for a scratch single. Two outs later, Nunez also walked Dick Schofield but stranded both runners when he retired Bob Boone on a force play.

Howell had the Angels' other two hits, both doubles. He doubled off Nunez with two outs in the sixth but stayed on second base as Devon White ended the inning with a ground-out to second.

Howell also doubled off Henke to open the ninth inning before the Toronto reliever came back to strike out White and Joyner and retire Bill Buckner on a fly to center field.

Henke has now converted his last 17 save opportunities and he earned this one in impressive style. He struck out the first four Angels he faced--giving him a streak of seven straight strikeouts--before Howell's hit. Henke wound up facing eight batters and striking out six of them.

"It's a pretty good idea to have a lead going into the eighth inning when Henke's pitching," Mauch said.

Instead, the Angels trailed after the seventh inning, when Witt (15-8) gave up a two-run home run to Rance Mulliniks. Witt had virtually matched Nunez through six innings, restricting the Blue Jays to three singles. Then Rick Leach opened the seventh with a single.

Mulliniks followed with a home run over the center-field fence, his seventh of the season, giving Toronto the only runs of the game.

Witt finished with an eight-hitter, striking out four. But only one of those strikeouts came after the first inning.

And because of one pitch, he wound up a loser to Nunez, a pitcher in his fourth year of professional baseball, having made the jump from Double-A this season.

"He threw hard," Schofield said. "He had a hard breaking ball and good changeup, which kept us off balance. Obviously, he was doing something right."

Said Mauch: "He throws hard, (but) their catcher called a good game, mixing a changeup in there. Kids like that usually need direction and (Ernie) Whitt gave it to him"

Meanwhile, the Angels blew an opportunity to capitalize on what seemed to be a key move by Williams--removing Key.

Mauch, however, didn't see the pitching change as a break for his club.

"Key hasn't beaten us this year," Mauch said, noting Key's 0-0 record and 4.20 ERA in two starts against California in 1987.

Then he noted Nunez's performance Saturday night.

"Key's good," Mauch added, "but he hasn't done any better than that."

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