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Bizarre Plays Spell Witt’s End

<i> Times Staff Writer </i>

Strange third inning at the Oakland Coliseum. A runner advances to second base after striking out on a wild pitch. A run scores on a check-swing single that parachutes over the fringe of the infield. Another run scores on a double-play ball that the second baseman kicks to the shortstop.

On the mound is Mike Witt. History has shown that this type of adversity does not agree with Witt.

Give Witt a ninth-inning showdown with George Brett or Don Mattingly and he’ll pin-point a curveball on the outside corner for strike three. The big stuff he can handle.

But when little things go awry, Witt can unravel. It happened again Sunday in the Angels’ 11-7 loss to the Oakland A’s. It was not a pretty sight.

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A strikeout by Oakland’s Alfredo Griffin in the bottom of the third started the mess. Griffin swung at strike three in the dirt, but when the ball bounced and skidded past catcher Bob Boone to the screen, Griffin was able to sprint to second base.

Witt then walked the next batter, .071-hitting Mickey Tettleton, on four pitches.

Then, Tony Phillips tried to get out of the way of another Witt offering, rising up and in, when his bat got in the way. A bloop single fell beyond third base and Oakland led, 1-0.

Then, Witt got the ball he needed--a potential double-play dribbler by Bruce Bochte to second. Only second baseman Rob Wilfong did a Pele impression with the baseball long enough for Tettleton to score and Bochte to reach third.

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That just about did it for Witt. He gave up four runs in the inning--on just two hits. He allowed another run in the fourth. And in the fifth, he served up a three-run home run to Jose Canseco.

With one out in the fifth, Witt was gone. So were the Angels, down 8-2 and on their way to a series-ending loss in front of a crowd of 17,677.

The rap on Witt in scouting reports during his trial runs through the American League was that he loses concentration easily. That was the rationale why this strapping kid with the monster curveball wasn’t a big winner.

Witt is now 25, beginning his sixth season in the major leagues. “When you’ve been in the big leagues five years and you’re earning $700,000 a year, it’s your responsibility not to let anything get to you,” Angel Manager Gene Mauch said.

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“I don’t know that it did,” Mauch added. “It was quite obvious he wasn’t sharp.”

Witt admitted that the quirks of the day did begin to weigh on his mind after a while.

“It’s easy to have one thing go wrong and get right back into it,” Witt said. “You shake it right off. But when something else happens right after it, it’s hard not to think about it.

“You tend to start throwing differently. You try to throw the ball into a tea cup, you start aiming the ball. I started thinking I had to do it myself.”

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Witt said he shook off the first in the chain of fluky events, the wild pitch on the third strike to Griffin.

“That really didn’t bother me,” Witt said. “I thought they’d move him over on an out and score him on a fly ball. That’d be one run.”

Witt could deal with that. But then came the bloop single, the error by Wilfong.

Soon, Witt was walking Tettleton again on four pitches, failing to knock down another potential double-play ball in the fourth inning, throwing a home-run ball to Canseco in the fifth.

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“That’s when it gets harder,” Witt said. “For me, anyway.”

Boone summed up Witt’s outing as “a struggle. He didn’t have real good stuff, but we got him into trouble in the third. We sure didn’t help him much.

“That’s part of baseball. If you don’t get it done, you move on to the next pitch. That’s the difference in the Steve Carltons of the world. Carlton is impervious to that. The next pitch is all that matters to him.”

The next pitch kept getting Witt into trouble Sunday.

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The game got out of hand on Canseco’s home run and reliever T.R. Bryden let it slip away altogether in the sixth, as the A’s scored three runs.

Although the Angels eventually scored 7 runs on 12 hits, they never had a chance.

“If Mike Witt is pitching and we score seven runs for him, I’d like to know that all the time,” Mauch said.

Seven is usually more than enough for Witt. Unless, as on Sunday, the little things get him down first.

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Angel Notes Together, the Angels and A’s combined to use seven pitchers, who combined to give up 18 runs, 23 hits, 14 walks and 2 wild pitches. One error by both sides led to four unearned runs. Said Gene Mauch: “That wasn’t our ‘A’ game.” Said Oakland Manager Jackie Moore: “Personally, I thought spring training was over.” . . . A’s catcher Mickey Tettleton, 1 for 14 before Sunday, reached base four times. He drew three walks and had a fifth-inning single against T.R. Bryden. He also stole a base. . . . Little Ball, Oakland style: The A’s set up a run in the fourth inning when Alfredo Griffin beat out a bunt single, moved to second on a walk to Tettleton and took third when Tony Phillips forced Tettleton. Bruce Bochte then hit a comebacker to Mike Witt, who gloved it but couldn’t hold on. Shortstop Rick Burleson raced in to scoop up the ball and threw it to first for one out, but Griffin scored in the process. If Witt had held on to the ball, an inning-ending double play was possible. . . . Rob Wilfong and Wally Joyner had two hits and two RBIs apiece.

Manager Gene Mauch and General Manager Mike Port are expected to meet before today’s game to discuss the team’s pitching situation. Subjects to be covered: if John Candelaria should be moved to the disabled list, a possible tryout for Terry Forster, whether a recall from the minor leagues is in order. . . . Reggie Jackson homered in each of his first three games of 1986, but his home-run streak actually was four games. Jackson hit a home run in the Angels’ last game of 1985 in Texas. . . . Kirk McCaskill was watching an NHL playoff game between the Montreal Canadiens and the Boston Bruins on the clubhouse television on Saturday. McCaskill, who formerly played in the Winnipeg Jets organization, was asked if he missed hockey. Just then, a fight broke out in front of the Montreal goal. “Look at that,” McCaskill said. “Would you miss it?”


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