The Angels’ Rick Burleson, a veteran who got a year older Tuesday night, has just about seen it all. Toronto’s Mark Eichhorn, a rookie relief pitcher arguing a close play at first base, had not yet said his all.
Experience told Burleson that Eichhorn doth protest too much--particularly in the ninth inning of a tied game with an opposing runner, namely Burleson, at third base.
So while Eichhorn emoted at one end of the diamond, Burleson inched his way down the third-base line . . . 10 feet, 20 feet, 30 feet. Finally, he broke for home, breaking up Eichhorn’s little confab with umpire Al Clark.
Burleson sprinted for the plate. Eichhorn threw to the plate. The throw was high. Burleson scored standing up.
A lesson had been administered, and a ballgame had been decided. Burleson gave the Angels a 4-3 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays before an Exhibition Stadium crowd of 18,103--and gave Eichhorn something to chew on before the next time he chooses to chew out an umpire.
Eichhorn had been disputing a call by Clark that negated a potential inning-ending double play. Wally Joyner had just grounded to first baseman Willie Upshaw, who threw to second to force the lead runner and Eichhorn was covering first, awaiting the throw back from shortstop Tony Fernandez.
Clark ruled that Joyner beat the ball to the base. Eichhorn thought the inning should be over. He told Clark so.
All the while, Burleson, who started the play on second base, had rounded third and was watching the discussion with interest. As he crept closer toward home, the idea of making a mad dash for it while Eichhorn raged on began to look like a good one.
“I don’t know if it was more guts or just being stupid,” Burleson said. “I just took a gamble.
“Normally, you round the bag big and the pitcher is taught to turn and face you. But he (Eichhorn) got tangled up at first base and, being young, he got emotionally caught up in the call. He wasn’t paying attention to me, so I tried to sneak in there.”
There was also another motivation for Burleson, who celebrated his 35th birthday Tuesday.
“I’m getting so old,” he said, “I just wanted to get the game over with.”
Burleson is no sprinter, but he was already halfway to home when he broke and Eichhorn’s throw to catcher Jeff Hearron was a bad one.
Eichhorn admitted he had been caught off-guard.
“Basically, I just took for granted it was the third out,” he said. “I really didn’t think there was any question. There was a hesitation by the umpire and he said safe. I turned to ask him why and (Burleson) went home.
“I was definitely a delayed call. Everyone could see that.”
Said Clark: “He’s absolutely correct. I did delay the call. There’s no doubt in my mind (Joyner) beat the ball. He was safe. The reason I delayed was, after the collision, I didn’t know where the ball was. I didn’t want to come out with a big ‘safe’ call with the ball rolling around on the ground.”
In other words, Clark didn’t want to look bad on the call if it was glaringly obvious. When it wasn’t obvious, Eichhorn bought Burleson enough time to steal a run--and a victory.
“Next time,” Eichhorn said, “I’ll ask for a timeout.”
Until then, the Angels had to wonder if this 25-year-old right- hander could do any wrong. Eichhorn entered the game with a 2-0 record and a 0.57 earned-run average--allowing four hits while striking out 17 in 15 innings. Excluding Burleson’s one-out single in the ninth, Eichhorn held the Angels hitless in three innings of relief.
“The way he was throwing, I thought that guy would be out there for 10 innings,” said winning pitcher Terry Forster (2-0), who worked 1 innings of hitless relief. “He moved the ball in and out, he blew his heater by hitters.”
After scoring three runs in a hurry off starter Dave Stieb, courtesy of Joyner’s sixth home run and a pair of RBIs by Rob Wilfong, the Angels were brought to a standstill by Eichhorn. They won the game on scraps--a groundball single by Burleson that barely escaped Eichhorn’s glove, a catcher’s interference call on Ruppert Jones and the disputed play at first.
“This team knows how to play the late innings of a ballgame,” Angel Manager Gene Mauch said. “If Burleson doesn’t hang in there for one tough at-bat off (Eichhorn), it doesn’t happen. He ground him out hard on that hit.”
And the Angels ground out a win when Eichhorn left the mound for a round with Clark.
“I don’t know what he was thinking about,” Mauch said. “I do know this: He throws better from the mound than he does from first base.”
Terry Forster won his second game since signing with the Angels two weeks ago, allowing only one baserunner--Cliff Johnson, via an intentional walk--while striking out two in 1 innings. “This is what I like--they give you the ball when it counts,” Forster said. “None of this being eight and nine runs down. That was the rut I was in last year. I’d come in when we were eight runs behind and I’d be out there, waving to the fans. I’d try to throw one pitch to get one out.” Forster was asked if showing up the Atlanta Braves, who released him April 1, was a motivation for him now. “Subconsciously, it might be,” he said at first. “Maybe. Yes. Before it’s over, they’re gonna know they were wrong. But I have know animosity toward the Braves. There’s not a better owner to play for than Ted Turner. I love Chuck Tanner. They didn’t release me to (bleep) me. Everything happens for the best--and this was the best thing that could’ve happened to me.” . . . Donnie Moore retired the Blue Jays in order in the ninth inning to earn his fifth save of the season and third in as many games. He credits Forster with an assist. “I have 11 innings in already and Terry has saved me at least another 5 or 6. That means a lot,” Moore said. “Right now, my velocity and my control are right where I want them to be.” . . . Rob Wilfong had three hits in three at-bats against Dave Stieb--an RBI single, an RBI triple and a double. . . . Wally Joyner’s home run off Stieb in the fourth inning gave the Angels at least one home run in each of their last 10 games.
Reggie Jackson made headlines in the Twin Cities when he complained about the lack of black players on the Minnesota Twins. Jackson’s remarks appeared in the Toronto newspapers Tuesday and was still a topic of discussion before the opener of the Angels-Blue Jays series. Jackson tried to play it for laughs during batting practice, as he watched Toronto’s George Bell, Lloyd Moseby and Co. file into the cage to take their swings. “Hey,” he cracked, “this team has no white guys.”