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Reliever Becomes a Believer

Baseball: Angel rookie Holtz comes through in a jam in a 4-3 victory over the Red Sox.


BOSTON — Two outs, bases loaded, tie score, bottom of the eighth, one of baseball's most feared hitters, Boston Red Sox first baseman Mo Vaughn, at the plate . . . was this any situation for a 23-year-old rookie reliever?

If you're Angel left-hander Mike Holtz, it was. Holtz admits there are times when he cannot believe he is in the big leagues, but he may have erased those doubts for good Sunday night during a dramatic showdown with Vaughn in front of 25,224 in Fenway Park.

Holtz struck out Vaughn, 1995 American League most valuable player, with a nasty curveball to end the eighth, and Randy Velarde doubled home Jack Howell with the winning run in the top of the ninth to lift the Angels to a 4-3 victory over the Red Sox.

Holtz, called up from double-A Midland after the All-Star break, got the victory to improve to 2-2, and his 0.96 earned-run average in 18 2/3 innings further solidified his stature in the Angel bullpen--and in the eyes of his teammates.

"Everything he does surprises me," said closer Troy Percival, who retired the side in order in the ninth for his 31st save. "He came right here from double A without even sniffing triple A, but all I've seen from him is a lot of savvy, a lot of smarts and a lot of guts.

"I mean, he wasn't even close to the strike zone with his first two curves to Vaughn, then he came in with a 2-2 curve in a perfect spot . . . it's amazing."

So was the Angels' winning rally, to an extent. Jack Howell, pinch-hitting for George Arias, opened the ninth with a double to right off reliever Mark Brandenburg, and when Velarde came up, just about everyone in the building, including Velarde, was expecting a bunt.

"That was embedded in my mind," Velarde said. "I looked over [to third-base Coach Eddie Rodriguez] casually for the bunt sign, and he didn't give it. I thought maybe I missed it and asked him to go over the signs again, but he didn't give it again. He was just shrugging his shoulders."

Velarde figured he'd try to move Howell to third with a grounder to the right side, but he fouled off two pitches and fell behind, 1-2. Then he drilled a liner over the head of leaping left fielder Mike Greenwell for a double that easily scored Howell.

"I knew I scolded that ball, but I thought it was right at him," Velarde said. "But it had some good carry on it."

Why did Manager John McNamara have Velarde swinging away?

"It was brought to my attention that he knows how to use the bat, and I had all the confidence in the world in him," he said. "Plus the fact that he's a .300 hitter."

That was McNamara's second major decision of the game. The first came in the seventh when Vaughn came up with Boston trailing, 3-2. Should McNamara stay with starter Shawn Boskie, who had given up only two runs on six hits in 6 2/3 innings, or go to Holtz?

Holtz was ready, but McNamara stuck with Boskie, who wished he hadn't stuck a chest-high fastball over the plate. Vaughn reached out and muscled it into the right-field bleachers for his 35th homer of the season to tie the score.

Why didn't McNamara go to Holtz then?

"I wanted to save Holtz," McNamara said with a grin, "for the situation he came in on . . . right?"

Holtz, 5 feet 9 and 175 pounds with eyes as wide as you'd expect on a rookie, eventually bailed reliever Mike James out of the bases-loaded situation in the eighth and celebrated afterward with a half-gallon of milk.

"It's all gone so fast," he said. "I've gotten a lot of opportunities, and I thank the coaching staff for having confidence in me. I always told myself I didn't want to come here for a cup of coffee. I wanted to help the team win, stay quiet and learn from the veterans."

Holtz had chance to help the Angels win Sunday night because of Boskie's solid outing and the three runs the Angels scored off Boston starter Tom Gordon in the second inning.

J.T. Snow walked, Rex Hudler, filling in for the injured Garret Anderson in left field, tripled to left-center, and Gary DiSarcina homered into the screen above the Green Monster, the first Fenway Park homer of his career.

"If for some reason my career ends tomorrow, I can say I hit a home run here in front of my parents, wife, daughter, relatives and friends," said DiSarcina, who grew up in nearby Billerica, Mass.

"One of my biggest memories of Fenway Park was Carlton Fisk's home run in the 12th inning in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series. To say I put one into the same net is very special. It ranks right up there with all my best moments."

Boston trimmed the lead to 3-1 in the second when Boskie hit John Valentin with a pitch, Greenwell singled and Mike Stanley singled to load the bases. Troy O'Leary's sacrifice fly scored Valentin, but Boskie averted a big inning when Tony Rodriguez flied to the wall in center and Darren Bragg struck out.

The Red Sox scored again in the fifth when Jeff Frye doubled, took third on Vaughn's grounder to second and came home on Reggie Jefferson's sacrifice fly. They tied it on Vaughn's home run, but the relief work of Holtz and Percival, and Velarde's RBI double gave the Angels their fourth victory in five games.

The Angels are still 13 1/2 games behind Texas in the West and there doesn't appear to be enough time for a playoff push, but it appears the Angels have finally put their worst week of the season, which included Manager Marcel Lachemann's resignation and six straight losses, behind them.

"It seems like the worm has turned . . . and that worm was fried on one side," Hudler said. "Hopefully we can ride this thing for a while on this East Coast trip.

"There are going to be big crowds here, the weather is nice, the pennant races are heating up. It's a great chance to be the main event in these cities."

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