Tom Lasorda would just smile and say that the Big Dodger in the Sky works in mysterious ways.
Before Bobby Grich bowled over Steve Sax during this spring’s Freeway Series, for instance, who could have predicted that a kid named Mariano Duncan would play a key role in the club’s quest for the title in the National League West?
The Angels don’t mind playing a part in Dodger destiny, so long as it doesn’t get in the way of their own postseason aspirations. Some of the Angels, however, are beginning to wonder if the Dodgers don’t have a hand in the master schedule, too.
“I don’t understand it,” Angel third baseman Doug DeCinces said. “It seems like Kansas City and the Angels are always in the race and we’re always in Kansas City at the end of the season. And the Dodgers always seem to finish up at home. We should be rotating finishing at home every other year.”
In 9 of the last 11 seasons, the Angels have ended the season on the road, and they’re scheduled to finish up 1986 on a trip, too. And 9 times in the last 13 years, they have played their last series against the Royals in Kansas City.
“It’s something that should be taken care of in the front office,” said DeCinces, who later insinuated that the players themselves have considered taking some action. “Ten straight games on the road is a tough way to end the season, especially when it seems like you have to do it every year.”
General Manager Mike Port is more than aware of the problem and said that Angel management has been working toward a solution for some time.
“First of all, one can’t fully appreciate the complexities involved in trying to schedule for a 14-team league over 162 games until one has to do it,” Port said. “It is very, very, very difficult. But beyond that, those figures do speak for themselves. It is something we have in the past given attention to and we plan to continue working on the problem.
“Having to finish on the road year after year means three things, in our opinion.
“First of all, because of the support we’ve received from the fans of Southern California and the fact that we are in a pennant race, we are forfeiting substantial revenue opportunities.
“Secondly, there is the impact on the players who want to play at home in front of our fans.
“Thirdly, and most important in my opinion, given the race we’re in, I think it’s a basic disservice to our fans.”
Port is not ready to propose any conspiracy theories, though, and most of the Angel players aren’t pointing fingers at anyone. They’re simply disturbed by the trend and want to make sure they’re getting a fair shake in the schedule.
“I’d like to see it alternate year to year (with the Dodgers),” Grich said. “It does seem like we’re always fighting Kansas City for the pennant back there, too. But the schedule is set and there’s nothing we can do but go to Cleveland and then get ready for the duel at sundown with the Royals.”
Neither team has a clear-cut advantage in the remaining schedule, beyond the Royals’ home-field edge.
Beginning tonight, the Angels will play three games at Cleveland--they are 7-2 against the Indians this season--before the four-game series in Kansas City. Then they will finish with three in Texas--they are 7-3 against the Rangers.
The Royals, who finished a four-game series at Seattle Thursday night, will play three at Minnesota--Kansas City is 7-3 against the Twins--before engaging the Angels. They will end the season at home against Oakland--they are 6-3 against the A’s.
Angel Manager Gene Mauch said he just wanted to pack and go play after Wednesday night’s 7-4 win over the White Sox that preserved the Angels’ half-game lead over Kansas City.
“I don’t want to look at the schedules and find, hear of, or think about any reason why we won’t win it,” Mauch said. “We can’t do anything about the schedule, so I’m not going to get concerned.”
If Mauch were going to get concerned, he might start comparing the numbers compiled by his starting pitchers against the Royal starters’ statistics. In the 46 games since the All-Star break, Angel starters have completed just three games, and 26 times the starter has lasted six innings or less.
Kansas City Manager Dick Howser plans to maintain his five-man rotation all the way to the end if the race is still in doubt. Of the four pitchers set to start against the Angels--Bret Saberhagen, Charlie Leibrandt, Bud Black and Danny Jackson--only Black has an earned-run average of more than 2.14 against California this year.
“I wouldn’t know who to drop from the rotation,” Howser said. “Saberhagen and Leibrandt have been our best two pitchers, but they’ve all pitched pretty well lately.”
Mauch, who could probably think of a number of pitchers to drop if he had someone to take their place, has his rotation set through the Kansas City series. But ask him who’s pitching the last three games in Texas, and he says: “Whatever it takes.”
Howser says he thinks the race will still be on after the Angels leave Kansas City. If he’s right, Mr. Whatever It Takes will be pitching the most important games of the season for the Angels.
“I can’t say why I think it’ll go to the end,” Howser said. “I just have a feeling about it. I said in spring training I thought this race would go down to the final two or three days, and I still believe it.”
If he’s right, Howser may be sitting pretty, with Saberhagen and Leibrandt scheduled to pitch the last two games of the season. But Mauch thinks that the Angels’ newly acquired pitching experience may give his team an edge, too.
“Veterans like (Don) Sutton and (John) Candelaria don’t get better in October,” Mauch said. “It’s just that because they are able to function under the pressure of a pennant drive when others can’t, they appear to be playing better.”
Sutton, who is ineligible for postseason play, should be eligible to pitch in the one-game playoff set for Oct. 7 in Kansas City if the AL West race ends in a tie. Port has not gotten league confirmation on that, but says it is merely a formality.
The Angels have the best lifetime record of any opponent in Royals Stadium, a rather unimpressive 60-62. But the Angels aren’t exactly looking forward to having the showdown on the Royals’ turf.
Grich, for one, hopes Howser’s premonition is right.
“I’m glad we’ll finish in Texas,” the veteran second baseman said. “I’d much rather play for the pennant in front of 10,000 apathetic fans than 40,000 anti-Angel fans. Of course, the best place in the world would be right here at home.”
For a change.
“If we had our druthers, we’d all like to end up at home,” Howser said. “But that can’t be. The California teams have a big advantage in the early season because they hardly ever get rained out and they can keep their rotations together.
“It’s pretty hard to complain about a 162-game schedule. Sometimes it works in your favor and sometimes it kicks you in the butt.”