It has taken Juan Beniquez 14 seasons to carve out a degree of respect and recognition. Kirk McCaskill seems to be doing it a lot quicker.
The 24-year-old rookie allowed only two runs and six hits in 7 innings and, with help from Pat Clements and Donnie Moore, pitched the Angels back into a half-game lead over Chicago in the American League West with a 5-2 victory over the White Sox Friday night.
The 35-year-old Beniquez, the one constant in a season of offensive inconsistency and revolving Angel lineups, had four hits to become the team's first .300 hitter (he's at .303) since May 10.
Beniquez singled and scored in the third inning and singled to drive in the third and final run of the decisive sixth, when Mike Brown contributed a two-run triple. The 10-hit attack included a solo homer by Doug DeCinces in the ninth, his seventh.
Historically, of course, Angel pitching staffs have been compared to Venus de Milo. Now the Angels are making this an arms race. The rebuilt staff owns the league's third best earned-run average (3.49) and has permitted only 18 runs in the last nine games, of which the Angels have won six.
McCaskill, a former hockey player who at one point seemed on thin ice in his bid to retain a berth in the rotation, has a 2.85 ERA for his last four starts, pitching at least six innings in each.
He's 2-5 and over the hurdle, perhaps.
"The tentativeness and apprehension seem a thing of the past," Angel Manager Gene Mauch said. "He's going after 'em now."
Chicago had won 15 of its last 21 games and boasted the league's best home record of 20-8 before a crowd of 33,252. None of it seemed to bother McCaskill, hurt only by Harold Baines' two-run single in the third.
"He pitched beautifully under tough conditions," Mauch said. "First time in Comiskey Park. First time hearing the noise. Wind blowing out. Watching both teams hit 800 balls into the seats during batting practice."
McCaskill stood at his locker later, laughed and said he hadn't watched batting practice, though it might not have mattered if he had. He didn't seem intimidated.
"It's been a tough road," he said, "but I'm a little looser now, a little more confident.
"When I was in the minors and thinking about pitching up here I never thought I'd be throwing as many fastballs as I am because all you hear down there is how big leaguers hit the fastball. I mean, it's been a learning process for me. I've had to learn to trust my stuff."
McCaskill made 99 pitches and said he believes he has shed his one-time tentativeness by throwing an estimated 60 to 65 fastballs.
"I feel I can win if I stay this consistent," he said. "If I can just not get traded I'll be happy."
He alluded to the rumors that have included Urbano Lugo or himself in a possible deal for Bert Blyleven.
"I've taken a lot of teasing," he said, "and it's been a little distracting because I don't want to be traded, I don't want to play anywhere else.
"I just hope that Urbano and myself can keep going out there and proving that they don't have to trade, that they don't need someone else."
Lugo gets his chance today. He hopes to feed off McCaskill in the manner that McCaskill seemed to feed off Ron Romanick, who pitched a shutout in Cleveland Thursday night.
The Angels have been waiting for that same sort of infectious momentum to envelop their hitters, but it hasn't happened yet. The anemia hangs on, though Beniquez remains immune.
He has played first base, shortstop and every outfield position. He has batted first, second, third, fifth, sixth and seventh, his manager having employed 63 lineups in 65 games.
The beat of his bat goes on.
Beniquez is hitting .356 since May 22 and .456 over his last 13 games.
Last year it was .336, the year before .305.
Mauch shook his head and said simply: "What a hitter."
McCaskill would agree. In McCaskill's last three starts, Beniquez has gone 10 for 14, delivering a pair of four-hit games.
A two-out single by Beniquez in the third led to the Angels' first run off loser Floyd Bannister Friday night. Beniquez scored it when Bannister ultimately walked DeCinces with the bases loaded.
Baines' double provided a 2-1 lead that the White Sox nursed into the sixth. Reggie Jackson doubled with one out, Bobby Grich walked and Mike Brown bounced his triple into the left-field corner, then scored on the fourth Beniquez single.
It was 4-2 when southpaw Clements was summoned and retired the left-handed hitting Greg Walker on a fly to center with two out and Baines on second via a double in the eighth.
Moore then worked the ninth, registering his 15th save, though Clements, who has allowed just two earned runs in his last 21 innings, also credited DeCinces with a save.
Leaving the mound after he had retired Walker to end the eighth, Clements had almost reached the Chicago dugout behind third when DeCinces spun him in the right direction. A rookie mistake, of which there have not been many.
Angel Notes The battle continues for Brian Downing, who set a record for creative helmet throws as he went 0 for 4. He has just four hits in his last 61 at-bats, his average dipping to .194. . . . Reliable sources requesting anonymity said that Cleveland's new attempt to secure waivers on Bert Blyleven has been thwarted by a Chicago White Sox claim designed to prevent Blyleven from going to either the Angels or Minnesota. Official verification cannot be made until waivers expire Monday, but Blyleven cannot be traded without waivers. A claim would force the Indians to wait another 30 days before asking new waivers. . . . Angel General Manager Mike Port said he talked to Indian General Manager Joe Klein again Friday. "Keeping in touch," Port said. . . . Steve Rogers, in his third start for Edmonton, pitched a complete game six-hitter in a 2-1 loss to Las Vegas Thursday night. The scouting report from Preston Gomez? "Mostly favorable comments based on the understanding that Steve doesn't have the velocity he once did and has to have command of his pitches," Port said. "The bottom line is that I asked Preston if there was anyone in our rotation who Steve could replace and he said, 'in that respect I wouldn't look to him now.' " Rogers is scheduled for two or three more starts. "The situation could change," Port said. "That's why we have him there." . . . An Angel spokesman said that continuing examinations on the left knee of Darrell Miller, who is on the 15-day disabled list, disclosed an irritation of the peroneal nerve affecting movement in his foot and some cartilage damage. Miller will have tests and therapy to determine the severity. . . . The Angels' Urbano Lugo (1-1) faces Tim Lollar (2-3) in a 10:20 game to be televised by Channel 4.