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Butcher Receives a Special Thrill : Angels: Reliever turns back two White Sox threats during 2-1 victory before a contingent from his hometown.

August 09, 1993|BOB NIGHTENGALE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

CHICAGO — Angel pitcher Mike Butcher looked at his arms Sunday afternoon and couldn't quite believe what he was seeing. This couldn't be happening, he said. Come on, this is crazy.

Here he was, standing on the pitchers' mound at Comiskey Park and surrounded by trouble. He looked around and saw runners on first and second. He gazed in the stands, and the crowd was on its feet, screaming. He looked at the plate, and there was menacing Frank Thomas.

That's when he looked at his own body, and there they were, goose bumps . He was actually enjoying this!

Butcher took a deep breath, threw a curveball as the full-count pitch and watched the ball drop softly into right fielder Tim Salmon's glove for the final out in the eighth inning, preserving what became the Angels' 2-1 victory over the Chicago White Sox.

One inning later, Butcher was running off the field, pumping his fists after striking out Ron Karkovice with runners on second and third and celebrating with the 75-member entourage from his hometown of East Moline, Ill.

"I tell you, I love this stuff," said Butcher, who has saved five of the Angels' last nine victories. "When you're out there, you're the man. You're the difference whether the team wins or loses. There's nothing like it.

"I'm not saying I'm going out and will be the next Bryan Harvey, but they're giving me the chance, and I want to show I can do it."

Having found a reliever who thrives on facing a hitter of Thomas' stature, and who is enamored of facing Karkovice with the game on the line, it's easy to see why Angel Manager Buck Rodgers believes he might have a closer.

"He loves a challenge," Rodgers said, "and was in the height of his glory going head-to-head with Frank Thomas. It was either, 'I'm going to beat you, or you're going to beat me. May the best man win.'

"There was absolutely no fear."

Butcher, making sure the world knows that he won't back down from anyone, had the gall to play mind games with Thomas. Forget that he is hitting .315 with 28 home runs and 92 runs batted in. Butcher stepped off the rubber and glared at him.

"You know, just to get inside his head a little bit," Butcher said.

"You can't be intimidated, no matter who it is. If I'm intimidated out there, I'm defeated before I even pitch. You lose all your aggressiveness."

Said catcher Ron Tingley: "Believe me, he's the last guy who's going to lose his aggressiveness. I look at him out there, and you can just see it in his eyes. He'll grip that ball so tight, and instead of throwing it 90 m.p.h., he'll try to throw it 95."

Butcher's heroics preserved the game for Mark Langston (12-5), who also is showing he can pitch in pressure situations. Without more than three runs scored for him in any of his last six starts, Langston is 3-3 in the stretch. The Angels have won only 11 games in which they have scored three or fewer runs, and Langston has been the winning pitcher in six of them.

"Obviously, I'd love to have seven or eight runs to work with," Langston said, "but mentally, it keeps me sharp. Every pitch has a meaning."

Langston, weakened by a chest cold, became the first pitcher to beat the White Sox three times this season. He limited Chicago to four singles in 7 2/3 innings. The hardest-hit ball off him was Thomas' fly in the first inning that center fielder Chad Curtis leaped and caught against the fence.

"I've never robbed anyone of a homer before," Curtis said, "but that's about as close as I've gotten. I hit the wall pretty good, but it was a good wall to fall into."

The Angels' victory was their eighth in the last 12 games, allowing them to leave town with a 52-58 record--eight games behind the White Sox.

"I think it was a do-or-die series for us," Langston said, "and winning two out of three was a very, very good sign for this club."

Said Curtis: "We didn't look at this series as not getting eliminated, but getting back into this race. I'm not saying we're back, but we're knocking on the door."

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