OK, no Cleveland jokes.
Not when a team whose next loss will be its 100th delivered most of the punch lines Friday night, hammering out 12 hits off Mike Witt and Urbano Lugo.
Not when a pair of pitchers with a combined record of 10-27 allowed only five hits.
Not when it was the hometown Indians who enjoyed the rare laugher, embarrassing Witt and the Angels, 7-3, before 5,695 fans who looked lost in cavernous Municipal Stadium.
Witt also managed to lose himself when it was over. He was gone as fast as his 2-0 lead had evaporated in a five-run Cleveland fourth, the big hit being a two-run double by Andre Thornton on a two-strike hanging curve.
Manager Gene Mauch wasn’t ready to hang Witt for it, but he did call it a dumb mistake by a pitcher who should know better. And it contributed to the Angels’ failure to take advantage of another Kansas City loss to another AL West also-ran.
Swept in recent series with Seattle and Texas, the Royals lost the opener of a three-game series to Minnesota Friday night to remain tied with the Angels for the division lead. The race is taking on the appearance of a retreat. It’s Alphonse and Gaston reincarnated.
Now the Angels and Royals have nine games left, two before their showdown series in Kansas City.
Mauch, anticipating a question after Friday night’s defeat, said:
“If you’re wondering if we’re looking ahead, no. The intensity level on the bench was as good as it’s been all year.
“Cleveland is just nice and loose and swinging the bats good. Their pitchers pitched better than I thought they would. Our pitchers made a couple dumb mistakes.”
Witt’s two-strike curve to Thornton was one. Lugo’s two-strike fastball, up and over the plate, was another. George Vukovich drilled it into the right-field corner, scoring the final run in the fourth.
Mauch was also critical of Witt’s slow leg kick after Brett Butler had opened that inning with a single. Butler, always a threat, took advantage of the slow delivery to steal his 45th base.
“Witt was trying to do things to improve his stuff,” Mauch said, “but he doesn’t have to. His stuff is good enough.
“The man’s been around for five years now. He knows how to shut an inning down, but he didn’t do it.”
Now 13-9, Witt took a 2-0 lead into the fourth, having retired the first nine Indians in order.
Butler singled, stole second, moved to third on a single by Tony Bernazard and scored on a Julio Franco single. Thornton then doubled for a 3-2 Cleveland lead, and Mike Hargrove followed with a single to score Thornton, though catcher Bob Boone insisted in vain that Darrell Miller’s throw from right had nailed Thornton.
Witt yielded to Lugo, who gave up an RBI double to Vukovich, then allowed two more runs on four singles in the fifth, expanding the Cleveland lead to 7-2.
The Indians have pounded Witt for 12 hits and 11 earned runs in the six-plus innings of his last two starts.
Asked later if the 25-year-old right-hander is still troubled by the recurring tendinitis in his right shoulder, Mauch shook his head and said: “No, he started off the game with a lot of ground balls. I wasn’t concerned about anything until Cleveland got me concerned. His stuff was good. His location was bad.”
Witt will try again Wednesday night in Kansas City. It’s too late for a change in assignments.
“What am I going to do about it at this point of the year,” Mauch said, when asked about Witt’s inconsistency. “I’m going to keep putting him out there with the expectation that he’ll pitch the way Mike Witt can pitch.”
The Indians have roughed up a lot of pitchers. They had averaged 6.3 runs in their previous 26 games. They had averaged 6.5 runs on a six-game trip to Anaheim and Oakland but won only once because of a trip ERA of 8.41. That’s been the pattern during a long season, but Neal Heaton, who was 8-17, and Vern Ruhle (2-10) changed it against the Angels.
Doug DeCinces hit a two-run homer off Heaton in the first, his 18th. Bobby Grich hit a solo homer off Ruhle in the ninth, his 12th. The Angels, who had scored 73 runs in their last 10 games, were shut out during the middle eight innings and held hitless between Boone’s two-out single in the second and Grich’s leadoff homer in the ninth.
Asked later about the spiritless atmosphere here, Grich said: “There’s so much at stake, it doesn’t matter where we’re playing. We had great spirit tonight, but Heaton (who pitched six innings) surprised us by throwing his curveball for strikes. The last time he could only get his fastball over.”
Don Sutton (15-9) will oppose Jamie Easterly (4-0) in an afternoon game today. Mauch sighed and said: “We have to put this behind us. We have to come back in 12 hours and start again.”
General Manager Mike Port joined the Angels here after attending an owners meeting in Chicago at which Commissioner Peter Ueberroth requested input on his proposal for voluntary drug testing by the players. Port said: “The commissioner has a mandate to do whatever he feels it will take to rid the game of the drug specter.” . . . Of Doug DeCinces’ last 12 hits, 5 have been home runs. He has 15 RBIs in the last 12 games. . . . Reggie Jackson is hitless in his last 11 at-bats, with six strikeouts in his last eight. . . . Ruppert Jones struck out as a pinch-hitter and is 1 for his last 22.