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Angels’ Class of ’85 Showing a Lot of Class

Who’s got the best record in the American League West? Who’s got a better record than most of the teams in the big, bad American League East? Who lost their manager, a star outfielder and one of their top relief pitchers to other American League teams during the off-season and didn’t let it get them down? Could it be the California Angels?

You bet your sweet Urbano Lugo it’s the California Angels.

The Angels, who have had to do without mercenaries Fred Lynn and Don Aase all season long.

The Angels, who have had to do without hitting heroes Rod Carew and Doug DeCinces for extended periods due to injuries.

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The Angels, who have had to do without Darryl Sconiers for an extended period due to, uh, worse living through chemistry.

The Angels, who have had to go so far as to dust the cobwebs off 39-year-old Reggie Jackson’s glove now and then.

The Angels, who have used a pitching rotation of Witt, What, Who and When.

The Angels, who have stuck with a shortstop whose batting average looks like a bowling average.

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The Angels, who as of Sunday had two players batting higher than .253.

“I don’t know how we’re doing it, but we’re doing it,” Manager Gene Mauch said recently. “No, I take that back. I know exactly how we’re doing it. We’re trying hard every single day.”

Pennants have been won with less.

Mauch nearly won one in 1982 with much more. He had an experienced club that came as close as a team can come, losing three straight playoff games to Milwaukee after taking the first two. In the Midwest, this has come to be thought of as Cub Syndrome.

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Mauch was so frustrated after that turn of events that he got out of the business. This is a guy who has been regarded as one of the sharpest managers in baseball history, except for the fact that he has never been to a World Series without a ticket.

He got back into the game this season after John McNamara defected to the Boston Red Sox. Mauch said he got the calling again. He said he felt that after a while away from the game, he was ready to hurl himself back into it.

He didn’t even go back into retirement when outfielder Fred Lynn and reliever Don Aase turned their backs on the Angels and signed with the Baltimore Orioles.

Mauch just went back to work. And what he has done thus far with the Angels has been ungodly.

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The Angels had an important series this weekend in Chicago. The White Sox were a half-game up on them, in first place, and had the home-field advantage to boot.

Mauch scrambled and gambled. He had Dick Schofield (.195) batting second. He had Brian Downing (.200) batting third. In the series opener, the Angel pitcher was Kirk McCaskill, a rookie. In game two, the pitcher was Urbano Lugo, a rookie. McCaskill was relieved by Pat Clements, a rookie. Lugo was relieved by Stewart Cliburn, a rookie.

The Angels won both games by three runs.

Sunday, Mauch got to use his ace, Mike (Perfect Game) Witt. He beat the White Sox easily, 11-1.

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So, as Disneyland’s Darlings return today for a homestand, they find themselves on top of the AL West by 2 1/2 games. They have a better record than McNamara’s Red Sox and a better record than Lynn and Aase’s Orioles. They also have one of the best road records in baseball, 19-12.

How have they done it? Not with mirrors. As Mauch has said, they have done it with hustle. They have done it with young pitchers who have looked better every time out. They have done it even with good hitters such as Bobby Grich, Ruppert Jones and Downing lagging 100 or more points behind the league batting leaders.

Mainly, they have done it with:

--Gary Pettis. This kid plays center field the way Jerry Lee Lewis plays piano. He’s all over the place. Every time you think Pettis couldn’t possibly make another catch better than his last one, he comes up with one such as Saturday’s fence-banger against Harold Baines. You know how New York Met fans bring “K” cards to the park for Dwight Gooden’s strikeouts? Angel fans ought to bring 8.5, 9.0, 9.5 and 10.0 signs to the park to score Pettis’ catches the way judges score gymnasts and divers.

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--Ron Romanick. It wasn’t really fair to lump him with Witt, What, Who and When. Now in his second full season, Romanick is 8-3 and an established big-league starter.

--Bob Boone. His catching was always first-rate, but now, since changing his stance, Boone has started to hit. Not like Tony Gwynn, maybe, but for the second-best average on the team. Which is great, because as someone once said, it’s like finding out Raquel Welch can cook. It’s a bonus.

--Juan Beniquez. Here is a guy who is going to get 600 at-bats some season and hit about .600. It was strange this weekend seeing him at first base, but wouldn’t it be funny that after playing musical first basemen the last few years with Carew, Sconiers, Grich and Ron Jackson, the Angels might end up making Juan B. the 1b?

Suddenly, anything’s possible.

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