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Off Farm, Belinda Plows Through Angels : Red Sox: Reliever had just planted acres of alfalfa when Boston called. Now he's contributing to pennant drive.

August 18, 1995|CHRIS FOSTER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ANAHEIM — It was the most wicked slider Stan Belinda had thrown all season. All Angel pinch-hitter Greg Myers managed was a weak swing that didn't come close to contact.

With that strikeout, Belinda wrapped up the Boston Red Sox's 4-3 victory Thursday night at Anaheim Stadium. He had worked one inning for his ninth save.

A high point by another Red Sox reclamation project.

"That ball just dipped down hard," Belinda said. "I haven't thrown a better slider this year. It was beautiful."

Pardon Belinda's moment looking back. Past memories haven't always been so warm.

When the Red Sox found him, Belinda was working his farm in Alexandria, Pa. In the same state, he had saved 61 games in five seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

He also had given up the game-winning hit to the Atlanta Braves' Francisco Cabrera in the seventh game of the 1992 National League Championship Series.

Never mind that Belinda had a 0.90 earned-run average in three NLCS. His last appearance was lasting.

The Pirates traded Belinda to Kansas City midway through the next season. Last season, the steam seemed to run out on his career. He was 2-2 with a 5.14 ERA, going from setup up man to mop-up man.

He was home in March after being granted free agency. Ah, but how are you going to keep Belinda down on the farm when the Red Sox were desperate for pitching?

"I had just planted eight acres of alfalfa when my agent called," Belinda said. "He said they were close to a deal. I said, 'Do it.' "

It was a minor move for the Red Sox, with a major payoff.

Belinda is 8-1 with a 3.18 ERA in 49 games this season. He took over as the Red Sox's after Ken Ryan failed in the role.

The Red Sox acquired closer Rick Aguilera from the Minnesota Twins in July. But Belinda has kept his hand in. His save Thursday was his second in as many games. And with Aguilera nursing a sore back, Belinda figures to get a lot more chances.

It's another amazing story for a patch-work pitching staff that includes Tim Wakefield (14-1)--Belinda's teammate with the Pirates.

"Stan is no different than he was in Pittsburgh as far as I can tell," Wakefield said.

There are some differences, though, even if they are subtle.

For starters, Belinda has developed a second slider and a changeup, which he has learned to spot. It has made him more effective against left-handed hitters, something that had been a problem in the past.

"I learned to hate left-handers," Belinda said.

He faced three left-handers Thursday. Spike Owen and Jorge Fabregas popped up and Myers struck out.

"I'd say that was the biggest difference in Stan," Red Sox Manager Kevin Kennedy said. "He's learned to deal with left-handers."

Whether he was going to get the chance was the question. Belinda had few offers after being granted free agency. He also refused to participate in the free-agent camp, lovingly called Camp Fehr.

"All I would do there was throw to a catcher," Belinda said. "I could do that on the farm. That place was for guys who were coming back from broken arms."

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