TORONTO — It would have been the perfect solution.
After scrambling to find substitute starters and reliable relievers Friday and Saturday, the Angels were hoping to get a complete game from Mark Langston Sunday. And for a while, it looked as though they would get a flawless game, as Langston retired the first 16 Blue Jays he faced.
But Toronto scored a run in the sixth, three in the seventh and one in the eighth Sunday at the SkyDome to win, 5-1.
Langston was overpowering in the early innings. "He had exceptional stuff, the best stuff he's had in quite some time," Angel Manager Doug Rader said. "I can't imagine him having better stuff very often."
Undaunted, the Blue Jays persevered and got to the 29-year-old left-hander just as they had on May 10, 1989, when they spoiled a perfect-game bid in the sixth inning and a no-hitter in the ninth.
Langston (3-4) said he pitched no differently his first time through Toronto's lineup than he did later, although the results were inarguably different. Through the first five innings he twice rebounded from 3-0 counts to record strikeouts. But as the game wore on, the Blue Jays, who ended a five-game losing streak, learned how to wear him out.
"He was getting behind all game, but when we faced him the second time around, we'd lay off those pitches," said left fielder George Bell, who drove in the second Toronto run with with a single in the seventh and the last with a sacrifice fly in the eighth. "We waited four, five innings because we know he's going to make mistakes."
Manny Lee ended the perfect game with a triple over the head of center fielder Devon White with one out in the sixth and scored on Junior Felix's sacrifice fly, matching the run the Angels had produced in the second on two singles and Lance Parrish's sacrifice fly.
"They're an aggressive swinging team and you have to make the pitches," Langston said. "I felt I still made some pretty good pitches and they just hit them. I felt I didn't make mistakes--they just found holes."
The Blue Jays took a 2-1 lead in the seventh on a single, a wild pitch, a walk and Bell's single, but third baseman Jack Howell's inability to hold Langston's throw on a bunt by Fred McGriff was the most damaging blow. It prolonged the inning, an opportunity Toronto didn't waste. Pat Borders scored Kelly Gruber with a sacrifice fly and rookie Glenallen Hill's RBI-single increased Toronto's edge to 4-1.
The Angels threatened in the eighth against Frank Wills (3-1), but Tom Henke came in to strike out Wally Joyner with two men on and Howell with the bases loaded. It was Joyner's first strikeout in 30 at-bats, and Howell's first strikeout in 28.
"The way Langston pitched, that (seventh) inning shouldn't have been enough to beat him," Rader said. "We should have put up more runs and played a little better defensively. The fact that he got a little off track, I don't think should have lead to a defeat."
Langston, who matched his season high with seven strikeouts, credited the Blue Jays for their persistence.
"They just keep at you," said Langston, whose 3-9 career record against Toronto is his worst against any American League opponent--but whose 16 strikeouts against Toronto in 1988 stands as his career high.
"You know it's going to be a close ballgame, so you just try throwing strikes and getting ahead of the hitters. I started to fall behind, and every time I fell behind, I had to come in there, and they can be very aggressive. I went after them as strong as I could. I gave up a hit and that's fine, so I just tried to battle. It just wasn't enough."
He was ready enough for McGriff's bunt, but Howell simply couldn't hold it.
"It was a big play, obviously," said Langston, who has lost three of his last four decisions. "We were looking to get out of the situation. I felt I was aggressive and I thought the play was aggressive."
Wrong as the result turned out to be for Langston and the Angels, the pitcher and his manager expect better in the future.
"I feel like I'm starting to get locked in, especially my last two starts," said Langston, who was an 8-3 winner at Milwaukee last Tuesday when he struck out seven. "I feel like I'm in more of a groove than my previous starts."
Rader believes the same is true for the Angels, who are 3-3 on this trip as they head for the two-game finale in Cleveland.
"I'm very proud of the way they played and have been playing. They've been busting it," he said. "It's going to continue to get better. It's very difficult to look lively when you don't put but one run up on the board, but some very encouraging things took place here."
Kent Anderson was scratched from the starting lineup because of a sore right shoulder, the result of a diving stop he made in the fifth inning Saturday. Donnie Hill, originally set to play second, moved to short and Johnny Ray was inserted at second.