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Blyleven Again Plays Brakeman to a Skid; Rookie Is Conductor

August 25, 1989|MIKE PENNER | Times Staff Writer

KANSAS CITY — Another Bert Blyleven start, another Angel crisis averted. It's become the happy cliche of this Angel season, so routine by now that Manager Doug Rader has begun to trade in his superlatives for superstition.

"I don't know what I can possibly say about him that I haven't already said," Rader said after Blyleven's latest breaking of an Angel losing streak, a 5-0 victory over Kansas City Thursday night at Royals Stadium. "He's just a special guy who does special things at special times.

"You almost hate to comment on it. You don't want to put a hex on him."

How many times can the Angels continue to ask Blyleven to come through as he came through Thursday night, ending a three-game losing streak that had swept the Angels from a first-place tie to three games behind the Oakland Athletics in the American League West?

Already in this, his 19th big league season, the 38-year-old Blyleven has ended five Angel losing streaks of three games or more--including a seven-game streak in June and a five-game streak in July.

Blyleven has revived the Angels so many times that Rader is starting to rank his rescues.

"I thought the biggest one was in Toronto," Rader said of Blyleven's 1-0 victory on July 18, which ended a five-game Angel skid. "We had all those guys beat up, we needed to rest some people and we'd just lost some very tough games.

"From a purely emotional standpoint, that was the most important one. But from a logistical standpoint, this was probably the most important."

Logistical?

"Yeah," Rader said. "It was the difference between (trailing Oakland by) two and four games." The Athletics lost to the Texas Rangers Thursday night.

Blyleven's 59th career shutout moved him past Don Sutton and Ed Walsh into ninth place on the all-time list. More than that, Blyleven also:

--Ended a Kansas City winning streak at nine games.

--Ended an Angel losing streak at Royals Stadium at eight games, dating to Sept. 5.

--Extended his winning streak to 10 games, dating to May 20.

--Limited a lineup that included George Brett, Bo Jackson, Danny Tartabull and Kevin Seitzer to four singles while working with a rookie catcher making only his second major league appearance.

Not only did 23-year-old John Orton, recently recalled from double-A Midland, catch his second shutout in as many big league starts, he also went three for three--including a three-run double in the fourth inning.

It was a 1-0 game as Orton, who teamed with Kirk McCaskill on his 1-0 defeat of Cleveland last Sunday, readied for his second at-bat of the evening. He had beat out a dribbler to shortstop in the third inning for his first major league hit.

With Johnny Ray on third base, Wally Joyner on second and first base open with two out, Kansas City Manager John Wathan instructed pitcher Luis Aquino to intentionally walk Jack Howell with Orton on deck.

"I knew that was coming," said Orton, a .233 hitter with Midland. "I'm sure he'd rather pitch to me than Jack Howell."

Orton responded by driving a pitch over the head of first baseman Brett. Orton wound up with a double and Ray, Joyner and Howell scored.

Just like that, Blyleven was working with a 4-0 lead.

Orton also walked in the sixth inning and singled in the ninth, wrapping up about as perfect a game as a two-game veteran can have.

OK, so Orton did stray too far off second base and get picked off in the third inning. He is allowed one rookie mistake.

Three hits, three RBIs and a shutout aren't too a bad way to spend a night in Kansas City.

What's it like to be 23 and catching for Bert Blyleven?

"Awesome," Orton said. "He's so smart out there. I learned a lot just by working with him."

Suffice to say, Blyleven worked his own game.

"Bert shook me off a few times," Orton said. "He has a lot of experience and knows the hitters better than I do. He knows what he wants to do, so I just went with that."

Graciously, Blyleven tossed a compliment Orton's way, saying: "Johnny O. called a great game. We work well together."

Of course, since late May, Blyleven has worked well with about everyone who has donned Angel headgear and a chest protector.

"In all fairness and honesty, Bert has surpassed all expectations," said Angel general manager Mike Port, who is accompanying the team on this trip. "We were expecting a quality performance, to be sure, and then letting the chips fall where they may. Knowing Bert's history, that figured to be more wins than losses.

"But he has been more than good. He's been nothing less than outstanding."

And when there's an Angel losing streak out there, growing uglier by the day, Blyleven believes that ending it is more than a challenge.

It's his responsibility.

"It's my job," Blyleven said with a shrug. "We'd lost three games here and it's my job to stop that and get us going again.

"We've worked too hard to be in the position we are in now. I'm thankful Oakland lost tonight. We're still in this thing. Now, maybe we can go to Texas and sweep them and get back up where we should be."

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