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Point Well Made by Angels' Lovullo : Baseball: His RBI single in ninth leads to 6-3 victory over Tigers, his former club.

June 05, 1993|BOB NIGHTENGALE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

DETROIT — Torey Lovullo, hero of the Angels' 6-3 victory over the Detroit Tigers on Friday night, stood in the middle of the cramped visiting clubhouse, waiting for the reporters to clear.

It wasn't anything personal, but in his words, he didn't want to come off sounding like a jerk.

Then, speaking softly, he revealed how much it meant to hit the one-out, run-scoring single at Tiger Stadium that triggered the Angels' three-run ninth inning.

"It was the greatest RBI I've ever had in my life," Lovullo said. "It felt great, because I wanted to hurt (the Tigers) pretty bad.

"I wanted to show these people that Torey Lovullo was not a fluke. I wanted to show these people in Detroit that I am a good player."

Lovullo, after all, came up through the Detroit organization, and when he batted .381 when called up in September of 1988, Tiger Manager Sparky Anderson called him baseball's next superstar.

Anderson told everyone who would listen the following spring that as long as he was alive, Salvatore Anthony Lovullo would be in his lineup.

Lovullo, feeling as if the pressure of the world was on his shoulders, opened the first month of the 1989 season batting .115. He was sent to the minors in mid-May and never returned. He was shipped off two years later to the New York Yankees.

"When I left," Lovullo said, "I told someone, it might have been Tony Phillips, 'I'm going to come back and beat you guys.' It took me to years, but I did it.

"They more or less wrote me off, and thanks to the Angels, they gave me the opportunity to show what I can do."

Lovullo's first run-scoring hit in his career at Tiger Stadium helped end the Angels' three-game losing streak, and made a winner out of starter Mark Langston (6-1). It also raised Lovullo's batting average to .313, to .409 with runners in scoring position.

Lovullo's heroics and Tim Salmon's 11th homer of the year also managed to overshadow the day's biggest sideshow: the 1993 unveiling of third baseman Kelly Gruber.

Gruber, who brought ridicule and embarrassment to the Angel organization simply for being injured when he was traded, played his first game of the season across the border from Toronto, where he spent the last seven years.

Gruber was hitless in four at-bats, with two strikeouts and two infield grounders--and looked like a guy who, well, had not played in a major league game since the 1992 World Series.

"It felt weird out there, very strange," said Gruber, who underwent rotator-cuff surgery Feb. 16, two months after being traded from Toronto. "I was anxious, I was nervous, I was everything rolled into one."

Said Angel Manager Buck Rodgers: "He looked like a ballplayer after a lot of inactivity in the big leagues. He's rusty right now."

Gruber was flawless in the field until the sixth. Dan Gladden hit a sharp grounder down the line, Gruber dived, but then braced himself as he was falling. The ball kicked off his glove, and caromed into foul territory for a double.

It wasn't until the ninth inning, Gruber said, when his tentativeness started to wane. He hit an infield grounder, and in his attempt to beat it out, dove head-first into first base.

"I had a long talk with Buck before the game," Gruber said, "and he told me just to go out there and play my game. Be instinctive. Don't think, just react."

Gruber realizes there still is the possibility of further surgery. His shoulder, he says, is only 80% healthy and the bulging disks in his neck remain bothersome.

In the final year of his contract, Gruber said if all goes right, he'd like to return to the Angels next season. Yet, he also realizes much will depend on how he plays the rest of the year.

"As long as I have desire to keep playing," Gruber said, "I'd like to stay here. But right now, I just want to honor my contract. Then, I'll take it from there."

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