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Angels Lean on Belcher and He Props Them Up

April 17, 1999|JOHN WEYLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Maybe the newly installed railing in front of the Edison Field dugouts can do more than protect the inhabitants from flying baseballs and falling stars. Maybe it will serve as a shield against everything the baseball gods can fling at the Angels, which in the case of this snakebitten franchise is quite a bit.

For one night anyway, the force apparently was with the Angels as they beat Seattle, 9-5, in front of 39,635.

How about this? The Angels scored the go-ahead run in the sixth inning when catcher Charlie O'Brien--who looked as if he was wading upstream in a waist-deep river--beat out a grounder to deep short for his first hit and RBI of the season. They got some breathing room when shortstop Andy Sheets, who had 11 homers in three previous big-league seasons, followed O'Brien's hit with a 407-foot shot over the wall in dead center. And they blew the game open when designated hitter Todd Greene hit his first grand slam in the seventh.

The best news on this evening, however, came from the mound, where right-hander Tim Belcher shook off his early-season rust and started hitting his spots. He went seven innings, giving up two hits and four runs. Of his 96 pitches, 63 were strikes.

"He got a feel for his release and he pitched outstanding," Manager Terry Collins said. "That's the Tim Belcher we all know."

Belcher had struggled mightily in his first two outings, yielding 10 earned runs and lasting a total of 7 1/3 innings, but Collins was no where near panicking. "He's a command guy who has struggled with his location," he said before the game, "but before you know it, we'll look up, he'll be in sync and he'll go through some lineups. I just hope it's tonight."

And Collins was leaning against that new railing when he said it.

No Mo injuries? The railing, Collins insists, is not a reaction to Mo Vaughn's opening-day spill that resulted in an ankle sprain and two weeks on the disabled list. In fact, the railing--which have netting strung between padded pipe rails--originally was put in when the stadium was renovated but removed early last season at Collins' request.

"It had nothing to do with Mo and everything to do with too many line drives into the dugout," Collins said. "I wanted them out because the players lean up against them and you're looking through guys' legs. I couldn't see, I couldn't give signs to [third base coach Larry] Bowa. But safety comes first."

The railing also served as a barrier between Bowa and Mariner third base coach Steve Smith, who got into a screaming match in the seventh after Seattle starter Jamie Moyer hit Orlando Palmeiro in the arm after giving up the home run to Sheets. Smith came over to the Angels' dugout and the railing served yet another purpose, helping Angel players restrain Bowa.

Tensions rose another notch when Moyer hit Troy Glaus--who had two doubles and a single in his previous three at-bats--in the back to load the bases in the seventh. They escalated when Seattle Manager Lou Piniella had to be held back by security personnel from going into the crowd after a ranting, finger-pointing fan.

"That guy doesn't belong in the ballpark, he belongs in a mental hospital," Piniella said. "He was yelling and threatening and I got tired of it."

But Greene took all the wind out of the Mariners' sails when he sent a Moyer delivery over the center-field wall.

The Angels, who averaged almost eight runs and more than 13 hits a game during their seven-game trip to Texas and Oakland, continued to spray line drives around the park, collecting 14 hits, six of the extra-base variety.

They had four hits and scored twice in the first, but Seattle tied the score, 2-2, in the second when John Mabry walked and Russ Davis followed with his fourth home run. But Belcher finally found his groove after Davis' homer and retired 16 of the next 19 Mariners he faced.

"I threw strikes from the third inning on," Belcher said. "That helps, and all that run support helps, too."

Shigetoshi Hasegawa gave up a three-run homer to Mabry in the ninth, but the fireworks of the sixth and seventh kept any last-inning disasters on the other side of the barrier on this night.

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