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Vaughn Homers Early, but Can't Deliver Late

May 22, 1999|MIKE DiGIOVANNA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — An eyesore of a game for the Angels--there was pitcher Ken Hill's horrendous start, right fielder Todd Greene's dropped fly ball and Mike Magnante's shoddy relief work--suddenly developed into a sight for sore eyes Friday night.

Despite all that went wrong, the Angels, trailing by a run, had runners on first and third with one out in the eighth inning and Mo Vaughn at the plate.

But there would be no late-inning heroics by the man who had blasted a three-run home run to key a six-run second inning. The Mighty Mo struck out, looking at an Esteban Yan knee-high fastball on the inside corner, Greene flied out, and the Angels lost to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, 10-9, before 20,697 at Tropicana Field.

"I've had a lot of success in those spots," said Vaughn, who leads the Angels with 12 go-ahead or tying RBIs. "It's a lot of fun to be up with the game on the line, and you have to want to be there, but they're black and white situations.

"You're going to fail or succeed. You come through sometimes, and sometimes you don't. Sometimes you hit a three-run home run, sometimes you take your lumps."

And sometimes you take a pitch you have almost no chance of fouling off. Vaughn crowds the plate like no other big league hitter, hunching over so much his hands are in the middle of the strike zone, and if there is one area where he is vulnerable, it's the low inside corner.

Guess where Yan blazed his 2-and-2 fastball?

"He had to make a perfect pitch, and he did," Angel Manager Terry Collins said. "Even the great hitters don't hit the perfect pitch. Sometimes you have to tip your hat."

The Angels' eighth-inning dud--singles by Andy Sheets and Darin Erstad filled the inning with promise--followed a disappointing seventh, when the Angels loaded the bases with none out and scored only one run, on Chris Pritchett's sacrifice fly. Troy Glaus' third strikeout and pinch-hitter Orlando Palmeiro's fly ball ended that threat.

The Devil Rays tacked on a key insurance run on Jose Canseco's eighth-inning RBI double, which allowed closer Roberto Hernandez to notch his major league-leading 15th save despite giving up Palmeiro's RBI single in the ninth.

The Angels outhit the Devil Rays, 14-12, scored nine runs, and still their modest two-game winning streak ended.

"If you tell me we're going to score nine runs on the days Ken Hill pitches, I'll put a lot of money on him," Collins said. "For some reason, he couldn't get it going."

Hill, coming off one of his best starts of the season, gave up seven runs on six hits and walked four in 3 1/3 innings. He coughed up a four-run, second-inning lead, giving up Kevin Stocker's RBI single in the second, Canseco's major league-leading 17th homer--he has homered in five consecutive games--in the third and three more runs in the fourth.

"If I get a lead like that I've got to take control of the game," Hill said. "I didn't have mechanical problems. I just didn't get it done."

Neither did Greene, at least defensively, nor Magnante. Tampa Bay scored two runs in the fourth when Greene, a converted catcher making his fourth start in right field, went to the gap for Dave Martinez's drive, only to have the ball squirt out of his glove on a play that was generously scored a double.

"That was an error," Greene said. "I don't make excuses. It should have been caught."

Greene is in right field because Tim Salmon is hurt, and the Angels need Greene's bat in the lineup. Since returning as a regular on May 5, Greene has gone 17 for 42 with four homers to raise his average from .209 to .284.

"There are trade-offs," Collins said. "We made a [defensive] concession to get this guy's bat in the lineup, and all he's done since then is hit."

Magnante couldn't be blamed for Martinez's gift double, but after the Angels tied the score, 7-7, on doubles by Greene and Steve Decker in the top of the fifth, Magnante gave the lead right back by allowing two runs in the bottom of the fifth.

Stocker had an RBI single, and Miguel Cairo crossed the plate before Stocker was tagged out in a rundown between first and second. Yan later bedeviled Vaughn, and the Devil Rays never relinquished the lead.

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