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Winfield Has Night That’s Worthy of Slugger Image

Times Staff Writer

Dave Winfield reached base safely in 39 of the Yankees’ first 51 games this season. Wednesday night at Anaheim Stadium, he was on base only once, when the Angels walked him intentionally.

He spent much of the rest of the evening trotting around the bases, though.

Winfield slugged a solo home run to left in the first inning off Ron Romanick and then came back in the third with one of the most impressive homers of the season at the Big A.

The 6-6 slugger crunched a line drive that shortstop Dick Schofield had a better chance of catching than left fielder Brian Downing. The ball probably was never higher than 20 feet off the ground, but Downing could only retreat a couple of steps and watch it rocket into the empty seats behind the left-field fence.

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And it’s a good thing the bleachers were vacant, or somebody might be wearing an imprint of American League President Bobby Brown’s signature on his forehead today.

“That one really surprised me,” Winfield said. “I knew I hit it pretty well and first I thought it’d drop in front of Downing. Then I thought he was going to catch it. Then I thought it’d go over his head. Then I realized it was out of the park.

“All those emotions went through my mind in one split second.”

It was a split second that left the Angel dugout in a bit of a depression, a depression that deepened as the game wore on with the Yankees eventually winning, 11-0, thanks to Winfield and Joe Niekro, who pitched eight innings of one-hit baseball.

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Winfield, a notoriously slow starter, is hitting .246, but he has scored 33 runs and driven in 37 runs. He now has four homers in the last five days to give him 10 on the year. And a streaking Dave Winfield is about as popular with opposing pitchers as Dave Winfield at a Save Our Seagulls rally.

“Hopefully, this will be an indication of things to come,” said Winfield, who was charged with cruelty to animals when he fatally beaned a seagull in Toronto in 1983. “This is more like the kind of offensive leadership I’m expected to provide.

“A .250 batting average is not indicative of what I’m capable of. A normal guy might be pleased with it, but I’m not.”

That might sound a bit conceited, but there’s no question Winfield is not in the run-of-the-mill ballplayer category.

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After all, this is a man who was drafted by the Atlanta Hawks and the Minnesota Vikings as well as the Padres. A man who went straight from the University of Minnesota to the major leagues and proceeded to win six gold gloves and four silver bats.

He’s the first Yankee since Yogi Berra (1953-'56) to drive in more than 100 runs for four straight years, the first since Mickey Mantle (1960-'61) to score more than 100 runs in back-to-back seasons and the first since Joe DiMaggio (1941-'42) with more than 100 RBIs and 100 runs scored in consecutive seasons.

Mauch and Co. had seen enough of Winfield for one night by the fourth inning. They elected to have reliever Chuck Finley walk Winfield to load the bases with two out. The move paid off when Mike Easler looped a soft liner to short.

In the sixth, Winfield smoked a line drive to center off Todd Fischer, but Gary Pettis made a nice running catch at shoetop level. And in the eighth, he flied out to center against T. R. Bryden and he bounced out to third in the ninth.

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“We knew we had to face some wrath when we got back to New York,” Winfield said. “Now, we gave them a little something else to think about.”


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