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Holtz May Be Only a Rookie, but He's Not Acting Like One

Baseball: He strikes out Vaughn to end bases-loaded threat in the eighth and Angels edge Red Sox, 4-3.

August 19, 1996|MIKE DiGIOVANNA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BOSTON — Two outs, bases loaded, tie game, 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 "I can't believe I'm in the big leagues," but he may have erased those doubts Sunday night during a dramatic showdown with Vaughn before 25,224 in Fenway Park.

Holtz struck out the 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, who was 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 standing in the Angel bullpen--and his stature 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. Howell, pinch-hitting for George Arias, opened the ninth with a double to right off reliever Mark Brandenburg, and when Velarde came up, almost everyone at Fenway 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 scored Howell.

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. 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 game.

Why didn't McNamara go to Holtz in that situation?

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

The Angels staked Boskie to a 3-0 lead with three runs in the second off Boston starter Tom Gordon. 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, 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 cut 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.

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