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Brett Bemoans Present, Ponders Future : Baseball: He leads Royals to 3-2 victory over Angels, then is critical of way sport is played.

August 05, 1993|BOB NIGHTENGALE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

George Brett scanned the visiting clubhouse at Anaheim Stadium on Wednesday night after the Kansas City Royals' 3-2 victory over the Angels, soaking in the moment.

There are still two months of games to be played, but still it was a vital victory for the Royals if they are to catch the Chicago White Sox in the American League West. The Royals, who trail Chicago by 4 1/2 games, can't afford to lose against second-division opponents, particularly on the days David Cone starts.

Brett said he hopes his teammates appreciate the thrill of being in a pennant race. It has been eight years since the Royals have been to the World Series, and Brett knows this could be his last opportunity.

He is 40, and when he looks across the field, and even in his own dugout, there are few familiar faces. The only teammate who was with him during the '85 World Series is pitcher Mark Gubicza.

Hal McRae, who was the designated hitter on the '85 club, is Brett's manager, and McRae's son is his teammate. Jamie Quirk, his former roommate, is a coach. John Wathan, another one of his best friends, is the Angel bench coach.

"I've seen a lot of my friends come and go," Brett said. "Sometimes, I can't believe how long it's been since some of the guys have retired. That's when I start feeling old."

Brett, who filmed a commercial Wednesday afternoon for a pain cream, figuring it would only make sense since Nolan Ryan does headache remedy commercials, does not know if he will be back in uniform at Anaheim Stadium after today's game. He is seriously contemplating retirement, and a couple of months ago, was certain that this would be his last season.

But that was before he returned to hitting the ball the way he can, driving in the game's first run with a double in the first inning and going two for four, hitting .339 with six homers and 16 RBIs the last 15 games.

"He's swinging the bat better now," McRae said, "than he was when I first took this job (in 1991). He's definitely got more power than I've seen in awhile. He looks like the old George."

Perhaps if the only question was whether he could still play, Brett would have signed his next contract. But the game has drastically changed, Brett said, and it disturbs him.

He watches Albert Belle of Cleveland and Ken Griffey Jr. of Seattle walk halfway down the first-base line on routine popups. He looks in disbelief at rookies veering into the dugout on popups.

"I was taught that you play the game to its fullest," Brett said. "You run out every ground ball. You run out every infield popup. You treat this game with respect.

"(Hal McRae) taught me the game as it's supposed to be played, and to me, there's no other way."

Brett, a probable Hall of Famer with 3,100 hits and three batting titles, helped the Royals take a 2-0 lead off rookie Phil Leftwich (0-2). The Royals found themselves tied, 2-2, by the second inning, and Cone (8-10) wondered if his team could score again.

It did, when Chris Gwynn led off the seventh inning with a single to center and scored two outs later when No. 9 hitter Jose Lind singled up the middle for a 3-2 lead.

Royal reliever Jeff Montgomery pitched the last 1 1/3 innings for his league-leading 32nd save, sending the crowd of 23,167 at Anaheim Stadium home.

"You can't have three baserunning errors like we had tonight," Angel Manager Buck Rodgers said, "and expect to beat a (top-)quality pitcher. Our pitching was fine, but our baserunning was (terrible)."

The Angel baserunning trifecta occurred when Ty Van Burkleo was doubled up on first base on a shallow fly ball in the fourth inning; Kurt Stillwell was caught between third and home in the seventh; and Chad Curtis was picked off first base in the eighth inning after his leadoff single.

Stillwell's baserunning blunder--in which third-base coach Ken Macha took full blame--might have been the most costly. Stillwell was on second and Gary DiSarcina was on first when Luis Polonia hit a one-out grounder to Lind. He stepped on the bag to force DiSarcina, but his relay throw to first baseman Wally Joyner was late.

Joyner, however, quickly noticed that Stillwell strayed from third base. He threw to Gary Gaetti, and Stillwell was tagged out in a rundown, ending the inning.

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