Angels' 3-2 Win Has a Catch to It : Two Runs in Ninth Decisive After Pettis Saves 2-Run 'Homer'

Times Staff Writer

Gary Pettis fashioned a new cover for his catalogue of spectacular catches Thursday night.

The Angels' center fielder did it in depriving Toronto's Jesse Barfield of a two-run homer with a leaping, twisting, reaching catch of a high drive in the fourth inning.

Pettis was ultimately credited with a save, for the two runs he prevented became pivotal when the Angels rallied for two runs in the ninth and a 3-2 victory that snapped the Blue Jays' seven-game win streak.

Manager Gene Mauch said of the catch: "You can't make a better one. Nobody can. Maybe nobody has."

Said Reggie Jackson, alluding to his teammate's defensive skills: "The only difference between Gary Pettis and Ozzie Smith is about one point nine million (dollars).

An Anaheim Stadium crowd of 23,824 fans, who had given Pettis a standing ovation, ultimately saw Dave Stieb, one of the American League's gifted right-handers, allow only three hits and an unearned run until the last-gasp rally enabled the Angels to register their seventh win in the last eight games.

"It's pretty sweet to beat a quality pitcher, especially in the late innings," Mauch said. "It lends to the expectancy of winning, and every time you magnify that, it's the healthiest thing in the world."

The Angels trailed, 2-1, when Ruppert Jones opened the bottom of the ninth with his second hit, a single to center. Doug DeCinces sacrificed. Jackson walked. Rob Wilfong fought off and fouled off a series of tough pitches before jamming a single to center, tying the game.

Stieb slammed the resin bag on the mound and was replaced by Jim Acker, who got Jerry Narron on a fly to center but couldn't get pinch-hitter Juan Beniquez, who had not taken batting practice because of a bone bruise on his right hand.

Mauch told Beniquez he could hit Acker one-handed, and he did, clubbing a game-winning single to center.

Rookie Pat Clements, who pitched six shutout innings for his first major league win against Boston Monday night, pitched 1 more for his second.

Jim Slaton had also pitched well enough to win his fourth straight, scattering six hits over seven innings, but in a close game he was replaced by Clements after the Blue Jays had broken the 1-1 tie in the eighth on a hit batter, a walk and a two-out single by Len Matuszek.

The Angels wasted a pair of walks in the home half of the eighth but came back in the ninth to saddle Stieb with his third loss against one win.

The game will be remembered for the Pettis catch.

His best? Pettis smiled and said: "I'll leave that up to you guys (meaning the media). I just make them."

Said Jackson: "It was the greatest of the 20 great ones I've seen him make. He can tell the boys to go for the other two Gold Gloves, because the one for center field is his."

There were two out with George Bell on base after a single when Barfield hit a towering drive toward the 386-foot marker in center field.

The 6-1 Pettis raced to the warning track and went up with an eye on the ball while turning his back toward the plate. He stretched his gloved hand behind and beyond the eight-foot fence, making the catch an instant before beginning his descent, his left wrist snapping off the cushioned top of the fence.

Pettis fell on the warning track, then raised his glove with the ball in it. The field was momentarily frozen. Bell stood at the plate, staring toward the track in disbelief. Barfield, near second, shook his head. Slaton had a hand on his hip near the edge of the mound, his eyes focused on Pettis, who now trotted in, the crowd warming to what it had seen.

Pettis disappeared among his teammates in the dugout as Jackson stood on the top step and urged the crowd to its feet. Pettis then responded to the ovation, emerging for a short wave.

Said Mauch later: "Only an exceptional athlete could have made that catch, and everybody knows he's that. It was goaltending. He slam-dunked the center-field fence."

Pettis has said that he pursues every fly ball, believing he can catch it. Did he believe he could catch this one?

"I saw it," he said, "read it well but didn't know if I had a chance to catch it until I got to the warning track. I thought I could, depending on how far over the fence it was. I played a little basketball in high school, and I'm sure that helped."

It helped keep Slaton and the Angels alive against Stieb, who struck out eight and walked four. He was scored on, before the ninth, only in the fourth when Jones followed a walk to Rod Carew with a single to left that Bell bobbled long enough to allow Carew to score from second with an unearned run.

Slaton, who has allowed only seven runs in the 30 innings of his last four starts, retired the Blue Jays in order only in the seventh but tenaciously scattered seven hits. He yielded a run in the third on a single by Tony Fernandez, a double by Damaso Garcia and a Rance Mulliniks sacrifice fly.

He seemed to yield two more in the fourth, but Gary Pettis went above and beyond to wipe them out.

Angel Notes Rod Carew bruised his left foot while eluding Toronto catcher Ernie Whitt when he scored in the fourth inning, and left the game in the sixth. Clubhouse X-rays were negative. The Angels said Carew would be on a day-to-day basis. . . . Willie Aikens, whom the Blue Jays designated for assignment Tuesday, meaning they have 10 days to place him elsewhere, is reportedly being pursued by the Seattle Mariners. The Mariners may employ Aikens as a replacement for left- handed hitting Ken Phelps, providing they decide to trade Phelps to the Yankees, who would like to use him in a DH platoon with Don Baylor.

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