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Langston Sharp in Overcoming Jinx in Openers

April 07, 1993|ELLIOTT TEAFORD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Mark Langston was tired during the ninth inning Tuesday. The end was near, though, and he wasn't about to let his first career opening day victory slip away. He had pitched too strongly, fielded too smoothly and received too much support to allow that to happen.

There were two out and a runner on first base when Robin Yount stepped to the plate with a chance to ruin another opening day start for Langston.

After more than 100 pitches, Langston summoned the last bit of energy he had for the confrontation.

There wasn't much left in reserve. And in the end, Langston had it timed perfectly. At game's end, he simply couldn't have thrown another pitch. When he struck out Yount--on his 125th pitch--to end the game, Langston said his left hand cramped as he released the ball.

He had earned the victory, however. A 3-1 decision over the Milwaukee Brewers before 29,843 at Anaheim Stadium made him a winner for the first time in five opening day starts.

"About time," he said after giving up three hits, striking out seven and walking three.

This was a complete game in more ways than one.

"You saw vintage Mark Langston out there today," Angel Manager Buck Rodgers said. "That's probably why we won the game. Look at all the things he did without throwing a pitch to the plate."

Langston picked off Brewer baserunners during the third, fourth and seventh innings. During the sixth, he sprinted off the mound to smother catcher Joe Kmak's dribbler up the third base line, wheeled and threw a strike to first that would have gotten faster men than Kmak.

"Not too many pitchers are going to make that play," Rodgers said. "Mark Langston is, if not the finest defensive pitcher I've ever seen, then one of the top one or two. He's just a good athlete. He was more than a pitcher out there today. He was like a cat, a left-handed cat out on the mound."

An inning earlier, Langston leaped to snare Tom Brunansky's chopper and threw him out, too. It could have been trouble, but it served to make Langston's opening day a little easier.

Support came on the first major league home run by rookie first baseman J.T. Snow, a solo shot into the bullpen in right field during the fourth, and a two-run homer by shortstop Gary DiSarcina during the fifth.

"Those three runs gave me some nice breathing room," Langston said.

Defensive help came in the form of an inning-ending double play during the eighth. Second baseman Damion Easley grabbed Dickie Thon's sharp grounder, flipped to DiSarcina, who threw to Snow at first.

"That was huge," Langston said. "I wanted to hug those guys after that. One of the things we do well is play solid defense."

When Langston returned to the dugout, no one said a word to him about coming out of the game. Closer Joe Grahe had been warming up in the bullpen since the seventh, but Rodgers wanted to let Langston finish if possible.

"I just assumed I was going back out there," said Langston, whose nine complete games helped the Angels to an American League-leading 26 last year.

With starter Jim Abbott now a New York Yankee and closer Bryan Harvey a Florida Marlin, the Angels probably will ride Langston's left arm for as long as possible.

He doesn't seem to mind.

"My theory is that I have to program myself to go nine innings," he said. "As it worked out today, I did (go all the way). I was extremely tired. The last out was going to be my final pitch. (Rodgers) told me that (Yount) was going to be my last batter."

Langston started and finished strong. He struck out the first four Brewers he faced, then struck out Pat Listach and Yount--each for the second time--during the ninth.

"He was able to get three different pitches over," Milwaukee Manager Phil Garner said. "He was ahead in the count all day, and he was able to freeze a couple of our guys with curveballs when he had two strikes. He also got out of a couple of jams with those pickoffs."

Back-to-back singles by Thon and Kmak in the third and a two-out solo homer by Greg Vaughn in the seventh were the only hits Langston allowed.

"Adrenaline got him through Yount," Rodgers said. "He pitched a great game, a gutsy game."

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