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Leiter Makes Case to Stay With Angels

August 01, 1994|BOB NIGHTENGALE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ARLINGTON, Tex. — Mark Leiter winced when he heard the news.

The Angels were desperately searching for a closer, and were close to acquiring All-Star Rick Aguilera on Sunday.

"I thought, 'Great, I'm going to lose my closer's role before I even had my first opportunity,' " Leiter said.

Instead, the trading deadline passed without a move, Leiter was the one saving the Angels' 4-3 victory over the Texas Rangers before 34,910 at the Ballpark in Arlington.

"He's been wanting to do this for so long, that I said, 'Put him in there,' " said Angel starter Chuck Finley. "I'm tired of listening to him."

Said pitcher Brian Anderson: "That's a good role for him because he's half-crazy, anyway."

Still, Leiter's role is expected to last only until the Aug. 12 strike date, and once the season ends, the Angels will continue their search for reliable relief.

Bill Bavasi, Angel general manager, was close to completing a trade for the Minnesota Twins' Aguilera, but decided the compensation was too much. He will try again, but not until the winter.

"We came close to a deal," Bavasi said. "But we couldn't justify it personnel-wise. It was a fair request, but it still carved our club up too much. It would not have improved our club. It would have opened up some holes that we would have spent a lot of time in the future trying to fill.

"As tempted as we were, we just couldn't do it. We're talking about a premiere guy, but it was way too heavy for us."

The Twins, according to club officials, asked for first baseman J.T. Snow, Anderson or Andrew Lorraine, triple-A reliever Troy Percival and either pitching prospect Ryan Hancock or Jeff Schmidt.

The Twins modified their offer Sunday, but by the afternoon, Twin General Manager Andy MacPhail refused to budge.

"I don't know how close I came, but we closed shop this afternoon," MacPhail said. "It just wasn't going to help us enough."

The Angels also talked with the Chicago Cubs about Randy Myers, but discussions with the Kansas City Royals about Jeff Montgomery ended with the Royals' nine-game winning streak.

"There were some people available that become unavailable because the pennant races changed," Bavasi said.

The Angels (44-62), who are 6 1/2 games behind the Rangers with nine games remaining before the strike date, realize there will be no help on the way. It's too late for this season, anyway, particularly if it ends in two weeks.

Yet, the players consider it a critical time, if not for anything else, for their pride.

"The way things were going there it looked like we were going to lose 100 games," Angel shortstop Gary DiSarcina said. "We lost our focus."

Leiter will be closely examined these next two weeks to determine his position. He might not be considered a prototype closer, but Bryan Harvey was discovered on a softball field, after all.

"I've been looking forward to this for an awfully long time," said Leiter, who pitched the last 1 2/3 innings for his second save. "I mean, to come in and face the meat of their lineup, with a one-run lead, it can't get any better than that."

Leiter, inheriting a 4-3 lead with one out in the eighth and Oddibe McDowell on first base, picked off McDowell and struck out Ivan Rodriguez. In the ninth, he struck out Butch Davis, yielded a single to Rusty Greer, and then induced a check-swing grounder from Jose Canseco.

With left-handed batter Will Clark due up, Angel Manager Marcel Lachemann had a decision: bring in left-handed Bob Patterson or let Leiter continue. Lachemann ordered an intentional walk, putting the winning run on first base, with Juan Gonzalez coming to bat.

Two pitches later, Gonzalez grounded out to third baseman Spike Owen, and the Angels had their second consecutive victory since ending an eight-game losing streak.

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