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No Relief as Angels Lose, 4-3

Baseball: Leading in eighth, they throw another one away as Lofton takes full advantage.

September 10, 1996|MIKE DiGIOVANNA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

CLEVELAND — The Jacobs Field mound resembled Grand Central Station in the eighth inning Monday night, what with Angel pitchers coming and going like rush-hour subway riders, and all the while Jim Edmonds stood in center field wondering about the passenger list.

There was left-hander Darrell May, recently claimed off waivers, but there was no Troy Percival, one of baseball's best closers. There was Mike James, the Angels' top set-up man, but he got off at the first stop, retiring Kevin Seitzer on a bases-loaded popup and leaving the game.

There were May and Mark Eichhorn--but not James or Percival--facing Jim Thome and Albert Belle, the Indians' two best hitters, with the bases loaded.

There also was a two-run Angel lead, but shoddy relief work, aggressive running by Cleveland's Kenny Lofton and one funky hop eliminated that as the Indians came back to beat the Angels, 4-3, in front of 42,208.

"We didn't close the door on anyone--it was bullpen by committee and that didn't work," a frustrated Edmonds said. "Not to take anything away from the other guys, but [James and Percival] are our horses. For us to win, they've got to pitch."

Starter Jason Dickson was superb, giving up two runs on five hits in seven innings, and it appeared a three-run fourth, forged on singles by Edmonds, Tim Salmon, Garret Anderson and Todd Greene, would be enough.

Then came the fateful eighth. Trailing, 3-1, pinch-hitter Brian Giles opened with a double off Dickson, and interim Manager Joe Maddon went to left-hander Mike Holtz, who entered with a 1.33 earned-run average but had struggled in his last three appearances.

Jose Vizcaino singled off Holtz's glove, and Lofton walked on four pitches to load the bases. James, the right-hander with an assortment of nasty breaking balls, came on to get Seitzer on an infield fly, but Maddon went to May.

May, in his Angel debut, gave up a single that made it 3-2. Eichhorn came on to face Belle, who lined a ball to the gap in right-center field, where Edmonds made a spectacular diving catch. Vizcaino tagged and scored from third, and the speedy Lofton tagged from second and tried to score.

Edmonds, from one knee, threw quickly to second baseman Robert Eenhoorn, but Eenhoorn didn't get a good grip on the wet ball and his relay was more of a hard grounder to Greene, the Angel catcher.

The throw, which skidded several times on the infield turf, was on line and on time, and Lofton pulled up about eight feet before the plate, as if to concede the out. But the ball hit the lip where the grass meets the dirt and skipped over Greene's glove, allowing Lofton to score the winning run.

"I don't want to second-guess, but James has been our set-up man all year," Edmonds said. "He gets a guy out, then he's out of the game? There's got to be a reason, but from the outfield, I don't know why."

Maddon said he wanted to limit James to one batter because he threw 1 1/3 innings Saturday and one-third of an inning Sunday. But James, who threw only four pitches Sunday, said he felt fine.

"I have confidence I can get left-handers out," James said. "But it's their decision, and I respect that."

Percival threw two innings--30 pitches--in Sunday's victory over Minnesota, and Maddon didn't want him to throw more than an inning Monday.

But if he was available for an inning, why not let Percival face Thome and/or Belle in the critical eighth and let Eichhorn start the ninth with no runners on and less dangerous hitters up?

"What if the same situation came up in the ninth?" Maddon said, answering a question with a question. "Who do we go to? We had it set up for Percival in the ninth. Those other guys are paid to do a job--they have to do it."

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