Brian Downing had a body-length smudge of orange brick dust on the front of his uniform, the result of two head-first slides on the basepaths. Downing displayed it with pride.
Downing had also just scored the winning run in the Angels’ 7-6 victory over the Seattle Mariners Monday afternoon. This particularly pleased Downing.
It was a great way to spend a home opener, Downing said. A tumble in the dirt, a victory for the home folks.
But best of all, Downing said, one of the true beauties of baseball was played out for an Anaheim Stadium crowd of 37,489.
The fickleness of the game.
“The great thing about baseball is that you can do something wrong early on and still get center stage at the end,” Downing said. “Or vice versa.”
Meet Darrell Miller and Danny Tartabull. Mr. Vice and Mr. Versa.
Tartabull, the Mariners’ rookie second baseman, experienced the down side of this phenomenon. In the third inning, he hit a ball about as far as a body can in Anaheim Stadium, depositing a Jim Slaton offering onto the green tarpaulin beyond the center-field fence--about 450 feet from home plate.
But, by game’s end, his name was being mentioned because of a pair of defensive lapses that cost the Mariners two runs--and, in essence, the game.
Meanwhile, left fielder Miller, who did his defensive damage earlier by misplaying a couple of dying fly balls into Seattle singles, righted himself with one last stand at the plate--driving a baseball into that same dangerous territory for the hit that brought home Downing with the winning run in the bottom of the ninth.
“I was ecstatic to see Darrell redeem himself, if that’s what you want to call it,” Downing said. “He had nothing to prove to us. But it sure was nice to see everybody crowded around his locker afterward, talking to him in a positive vein.”
Until the ninth inning, Miller could have envisioned a postgame scene similar to a police inquisition.
What happened on those two fly balls in the sixth, Darrell? Do you realize the Mariners scored two runs on those balls? If you catch them, everyone goes home early.
Miller wound up falling to his knees on both balls, watching both skitter away from his grasp. The first, delivered by Gorman Thomas, drove in the first of three Mariner runs in the inning. The second, courtesy of Steve Yeager, brought home Thomas for a 5-2 Seattle lead.
“Those two balls ate me up,” Miller said. “When a ball’s hit on a line right at you, it’s difficult to judge them when there’s so many white shirts in the crowd. Basically, I screwed them up.”
But there would be time for atonement. After the Angels rallied for a 6-6 tie, Downing led off the ninth by getting hit by a Pete Ladd pitch. George Hendrick, who had a home run and two singles in his first three at-bats, then followed with a sharp grounder that grazed off shortstop Spike Owen’s glove for an error. Runners on first and third for Miller.
Miller proceeded to line Ladd’s final pitch to left, scoring Downing and earning his measure of vindication.
“That’s gratifying,” Miller said. “Especially after botching a few balls out there.”
But had it not been for Tartabull, Miller might have never received the chance. Tartabull had a hand--or a glove--in both the Angels’ fifth and sixth runs.
With two outs in the seventh, Downing drilled a ball into right-center field. It went to the wall and Downing was heading for third. It should have been a triple.
Third base coach Moose Stubing had already given Downing the stop sign. But when Tartabull bobbled the outfield relay, Stubing reversed signs and waved Downing home. Downing revved up again and when Tartabull’s hurried throw was up the line, Downing was able the score with a head-first slide.
“I had my back to the play,” Downing said. “I couldn’t afford to take a look. (Stubing) was stopping me, then he restarted me. I said, ‘Whoa, something must’ve happened.’
“If (Tartabull) makes a good throw, I’m in deep trouble. But it was worth the risk with two outs.”
The Angels tied the game in the eighth when Bobby Grich doubled home Ruppert Jones. Jones had moved into scoring position by walking and advancing to second on a ground out by Gary Pettis.
Only it wasn’t that simple.
Pettis grounded the ball right at Tartabull. Jones broke for second, then stutter-stepped, drawing Tartabull toward him. Tartabull tried to make a tag, but Jones retreated farther.
Finally, Tartabull threw to first to get Pettis. But that enabled Jones to sprint to second.
Instead of a possible double play, clearing the bases, the Mariners were faced with Jones at second with one out. Grich capitalized by doubling to left to tie the score.
Donnie Moore came on to pitch the ninth in relief of Ken Forsch, who had come on in relief of Slaton in the sixth. Moore retired the Mariners in order and then earned his first victory of the season when Miller delivered his RBI single.
Downing summed up the day as “a blast.” He used his filthy uniform as proof.
“You don’t often get the chance to get this dirty as a DH,” he said with a grin. “This reminds me of my catching days. Look at this--my uniform, ruined, on the first day.”
And Miller had got away completely clean. On this day, neither player could ask for more.
General Manager Mike Port wasn’t talking, but surgery remains the most likely option for John Candelaria, now that the bone spur in his left elbow has cracked. Manager Gene Mauch sounded as if he expected Candelaria to be sidelined for some time when he discussed Dr. Lewis Yocum’s report Monday. “It was more like what I was afraid of,” Mauch said of the prognosis. “If we’re without Candelaria for a long time, we’ll have to make do. This game is a constant series of doing whatever has to be done. But he’ll win as many games for us as he did last year. He’ll make, at the minimum, an equal contribution to what he did for us last year.” It was mentioned to Mauch that Candelaria spent two months with the Angels in 1985 (going 7-3). “OK, you’re trying to narrow me down,” Mauch said. “It’s reasonable to think he’ll make more of a contribution than that.”
Brian Downing, the Angels’ regular left fielder, said he could empathize with Darrell Miller after his long day in the field. “I’m glad he was out there instead of me,” Downing said. “This is an extremely, extremely difficult place to play in the outfield. The grass is irregular, and the ball doesn’t bounce true. It’s hard to get the proper perspective when the ball is hit right at you. I’ve seen some awfully good outfielders embarrassed here. Chet Lemon came here with no errors and made three in one game. Darrell is the best man we have out there (in left field). If he can’t catch it, I sure can’t. Everybody can’t be Gary Pettis.” . . . In the wake of George Hendrick’s 3-for-4 performance, Mauch was besieged with questions about his right fielder, who refuses to talk to the press. Afterward, Mauch quipped: “The only decision I made today was to tell George to please talk to you guys, so I don’t have to do it for him all the time.”