CHICAGO — Gene Mauch doesn't solicit sympathy, but he received it Thursday night in the form of humor. Standing near the dugout during batting practice before the Angels' game with the White Sox, the Angel manager was approached by his counterpart with the White Sox, Jim Fregosi.
"Don't worry, Gene," Fregosi said, extending a hand. "Things will get better."
Mauch smiled in remembrance of an Angels' three-game sweep of the Sox in late June, which gave Chicago a 7-21 record for the month. He had said the same thing to Fregosi.
Things didn't get better for Mauch. The Angels lost again, this time 6-3, to dive deeper into the American League West basement. Their only runs came on a fourth-inning, wind-aided home run by Jack Howell, his 21st. It gave the Angels a 3-2 lead, but the White Sox scored four runs in the fifth off Willie Fraser (10-10).
The runs were unearned, due to an error by Howell at third base. "I do know what Gene's going through," Fregosi said after 21-year-old Jack McDowell, just three months out of Stanford, went 7 innings, allowing 7 hits, to win his third straight game. Bobby Thigpen picked up his 15th save. "Every manager goes into spring training with a game plan. I know Gene's was to win with pitching, but his staff had a number of injuries. It caused him many problems.
"It's to his credit that he kept them going, kept them in contention, as long as he did. I know Gene takes losses as hard as anybody. This is a very difficult time for him, just like it was for me in June."
White Sox TV broadcaster Don Drysdale, who is also close to Mauch as a neighbor in Rancho Mirage, doesn't think Mauch is going to pack up and retire to the desert.
"Gene would go crazy without something to do," Drysdale said. "He'll give it one more year, at least."
There are a few goals left for the Angels. Brian Downing, for instance, is challenging for the league leads in walks (102) and runs (105). "Don't mean a thing," he said. "When you're not winning, those kinds of things don't count."
Every hit counts for Howell. Although he also hit a two-run homer in Wednesday night's 5-2 defeat, he's in an 11-for-63 skid (.176). "He'll be all right," said White Sox General Manager Larry Himes, who as Angel director of player personnel helped guide Howell through the minor leagues.
"He can be a 25-homer man, maybe hit .275," Himes said. "The Angels don't have to worry about his fielding. He's a good one."
Mauch had words of praise for one of Himes' men, McDowell. "The most important thing is he already understands the importance of pitching inside," Mauch said. "You don't see that much in young pitchers."
Angel Notes The Angels play host to Cleveland tonight through Sunday to close out 1987. Tonight's start could be the last for Don Sutton (10-11). The club has the option on his contract next season. His rival is Rich Yett (3-8). . . . Bill Buckner may require more surgery on his foot. "It won't be that serious," he said. "The joint may need fusing." . . . The players and coaches were concerned when they couldn't get through to their families after Thursday's earthquake. It wasn't until late afternoon that phone lines opened up, but only on occasion. . . . Ruppert Jones was a late scratch Thursday night with a stiff neck. Coach Jimmie Reese turned 82. His career started in 1917 as a batboy for the Los Angeles Angels of the Pacific Coast League.