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Angels Knuckle Under on O'Brien Homer, 4-3 : Rangers Rally in Ninth, and Howe Saves Hough to Keep California 7 1/2 Behind

September 13, 1987|MIKE PENNER | Times Staff Writer

On a night rich in knuckleballs, passed balls and dropped balls, the Texas Rangers outlasted the Angels, 4-3, Saturday at Anaheim Stadium on a couple of deep fly balls.

Angel starter Mike Witt pitched seven scoreless innings--displaying what Angel Manager Gene Mauch called his best fastball this season--but surrounded them with a pair of two-run home runs by Ruben Sierra and Pete O'Brien. Sierra hit his in the first inning, O'Brien delivered his in the ninth, and by that much, the Angels lost for the eighth time in their last 10 games.

The Angels had overcome Sierra's blow with three unearned runs, taking advantage of three Texas errors to carry a 3-2 advantage into the top of the ninth. But there Sierra was again, to get things going and to get Witt in trouble.

Sierra led off with a grounder to Angel second baseman Johnny Ray, who bobbled the ball before hurrying a throw to first base. That extra moment, however, amounted to a lot. Hustling down the line, Sierra slid into first and drew a safe call from umpire Dave Phillips.

On Witt's next pitch, O'Brien sliced the ball down the right-field line and hooked it into the seats next to the foul pole. It wasn't much of a home run--maybe 340 feet--but it was an important one.

In the bottom of the ninth, Ranger starter Charlie Hough (16-11), previously victimized by the Texas errors and two passed balls by catcher Geno Petralli, delivered one final knuckleball to leadoff batter Tony Armas, who lined it off shortstop Scott Fletcher's glove for a single.

At that point, Angel Manager Gene Mauch sent Mark McLemore in to run for Armas, and Ranger Manager Bobby Valentine sent Steve Howe in to pitch for Hough. Howe responded with his first save since June 5, 1985--when he was still with the Dodgers--by retiring Bob Boone on a sacrifice, Dick Schofield on a grounder to second base and pinch-hitter George Hendrick on a fly to center field.

Witt (15-12) wound up the loser, extending his winless streak to five starts, and the Angels fell six games below .500 (68-74). They trail first-place Minnesota by 7 1/2 games with 20 to play.

Witt has been stuck on 15 victories since Aug. 17. Since then, he has lost by scores of 2-0, 4-3, t5-2 and 4-3.

Mauch thought Witt pitched exceptionally well Saturday. "The man started with the best stuff he had in two years . . . well, make that since late last year," Mauch said, remembering that Witt was 18-10 with a 2.84 ERA last season. "He lost a little on his fastball in the fifth but before that, that was the best fastball I've seen from him this year by far.

"I was tickled pink by the way he started. I was thinking to myself, 'Looky here, I guess Mike Witt's fastball is here.' "

Witt summed up his 12th defeat a bit differently.

"Overall, I did not pitch well," he said. "I threw a couple of good innings, but I also had a couple innings where I didn't throw well at all. And those innings were the ballgame.

"All I know is you can't win too many games giving up four runs. It seems all I've been doing is giving up four runs every time I go out there."

Witt would have allowed only three had Ray made the play on Sierra in the ninth inning. And that raised a point of contention in the Angel clubhouse.

Several Angels said they believed Ray had indeed made the play in time.

"From where I was, it looked like he got him," Witt said of the close play at first.

"I thought the throw beat him," added Ray, "although I couldn't really tell from where I was at."

Phillips, who had a closer view, ruled Sierra safe. With the call, O'Brien's home run went from game-tying blow to game-winner.

Ray's miscue was the fourth error of the game by the teams and led to the night's fourth unearned run. The Angels scored the other three, turning a dropped fly ball and a passed ball into one run and converting a botched ground ball and another passed ball into two more.

In the process, Texas catcher Petralli equaled a major-league record that had stood for more than two decades. With his two passed balls, Petralli tied J.C. Martin for the most allowed in a single season. As Martin did with the Chicago White Sox in 1965, Petralli has permitted 33 passed balls in 1987.

In fairness to Petralli, however, Martin never had to catch Hough. Hough's knuckleball did considerable dancing Saturday night, with the Angels hitting it safely only six times.

Thus, the Angels needed help. And they got some in the fourth and sixth innings.

Rookie left fielder Dave Meier started the bottom of the fourth inning with flair, ambling in to make a basket catch on a bloop fly by Wally Joyner--only to discover a hole in the basket. The ball squirted out of Meier's grasp, flying into foul territory. Joyner turned the play into a two-base error.

An infield grounder by Bill Buckner moved Joyner to third, and from there, Joyner scored on a fielder's choice--third baseman Tom O'Malley fielding a grounder by Doug DeCinces and throwing home, but not in time to beat Joyner.

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