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After Giving Sutton 5-0 Lead, Angels Win the Hard Way, 6-4

Times Staff Writer

There have been harder games to win than the one the Angels took from the Texas Rangers, 6-4, Monday night at Arlington Stadium. Has to be. Somewhere in the Angel archives is a victory that included more men left on base, more pitching changes, more testing of men’s wills.

But for now, this will have to do.

“A struggle,” Angel Manager Gene Mauch said. “It was a real struggle.”

Nothing came easily for the Angels as they spent nearly 3 1/2 hours teetering between a three- or one-game deficit to the division-leading Rangers. They decided to make it one game, but only after watching a 5-0 sixth-inning lead fade to 5-3, then 5-4 in the eighth.

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And even after they scored a sixth run in the ninth inning, they were forced to watch the Rangers put a man on base and the tying run at the plate. In the Rangers’ favor was an 11-game winning streak at home.

“They keep coming back at you,” said Jim Slaton, who made his first relief appearance since being pulled from the starting rotation June 15. “They’re a young club. They don’t know any better. They don’t know they’re not supposed to do that.”

Slaton took the mound in the sixth inning, replacing Don Sutton, who earned every bit of career victory No. 301 and No. 6 of this season. It marks the first time this year that Sutton climbed above .500 and also gave him sole possession of 17th place on the all-time win list.

He departed after allowing three runs, all on a homer by first baseman Pete O’Brien that scored Oddibe McDowell and Scott Fletcher. Both McDowell and Fletcher bunted to reach base. “We’re just not supposed to allow that,” Mauch said.

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It happened, as did three Ranger runs. Enter Slaton, whose brother Frank has lost 13 pounds after agreeing to a bizarre diet of sorts.

“I’m going to have to call it off because I’m going to kill him,” Slaton said. “I can see the headline now: ‘Slaton Wins, Brother Dies.’ ”

Originally, the Slatons had said the hunger strike would end when Jim won a game. “But when they put me in the bullpen, he said, ‘Until you get a save.’ Now if I talk to him, it will probably have gone from win, to save, to appearance. He’s been eating soup, stuff like that. He says that if he doesn’t chew, it’s OK. So now he’s thinking about going to buy a big steak and putting it in a blender.”

Slaton could afford humor. He had done what he was supposed to, which was to get the Angels to the eighth inning with minimal damage. He allowed one run and then turned things over to Terry Forster and then Doug Corbett, who recorded his sixth save of the season.

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“It was just one of those games,” Corbett said. “It wasn’t over until the last out was made.”

Corbett and Forster have helped keep the Angels close during this recent streak, which includes six wins in the last seven games. They’ve done all of this without reliever Donnie Moore, who contributed 31 saves last year.

“In the absence of Donnie, we’re sending two guys out there that have been No. 1s before,” Mauch said. “Right now, they’re No. 1 and No. 1A, and I don’t know which one one is.”

The Angels left 14 men on base, which didn’t help their cause. They saw center fielder Gary Pettis slam into the wall while catching a Pete Incaviglia line drive in the sixth inning. Pettis was slow in getting up.

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There were numerous other struggles, not all limited to the Angels.

Texas reliever Ricky Wright passed out from heat exhaustion after leaving the game in the sixth inning. He spent the evening in a hospital. And Ranger catcher Orlando Mercado left the game in the third inning because of a bruised right thigh, the result of a foul tip.

The game was interesting, too.

By the sixth inning, the Angels, using various methods, had handed Sutton a 5-0 lead, a comfortable and usually safe enough margin for him.

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They took advantage of Ranger errors and wild pitches in the fourth inning to unearn their first run. With one out, Brian Downing grounded hard to third baseman Steve Buechele. Buechele bobbled the ball and Downing beat the throw to first. Reggie Jackson followed and reached first on a fielding error by shortstop Fletcher. The ball glanced off Fletcher’s glove and into left field. Downing hurried to third and scored on a wild pitch by rookie Jose Guzman. Doug DeCinces walked, but Rob Wilfong and Dick Schofield grounded out to end the inning.

Bob Boone, who entered the game with just seven hits in his last 69 at-bats, singled to open the fifth. Pettis doubled him to third and he later scored on an RBI single by Downing. Ranger Manager Bobby Valentine had chosen to intentionally walk Wally Joyner to face Downing, who began the game with a .357 average in his last 12 games.

The Angels added three more runs in the sixth. DeCinces led off with a homer to left, his 10th of the year and his fifth in the last 12 games. Wilfong grounded out, but Schofield singled to right and then stole second and third for his ninth and 10th stolen bases of the year. As he stole third, Boone struck out.

Wright replaced Guzman and promptly walked George Hendrick, who took Ruppert Jones’ place in the lineup. Joyner then followed with a two-run single, scoring Schofield and Pettis. After a walk to Downing, Jackson grounded out to first.

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Joyner would finish the night with two hits and the two important RBIs.

“I think I was getting pretty conscious of hitting the ball hard instead of remembering it doesn’t matter the next day in the scorebook,” Joyner said.

This one mattered for the Angels. Extended was a win streak over the Rangers, which grows to six. Peace of mind was assisted, too.

Angel Notes When John Candelaria makes his start in Palm Springs on Thursday, Angel pitching coach Marcel Lachemann said they’ll look for the following: “Fluidness of delivery . . . command of pitches in the strike zone . . . what his stuff is like. And because he’s a starter, we’ll look at his stuff as he goes along.” Candelaria is scheduled to pitch four or five innings, nothing more than 65 pitches. If he does well, he most likely would be added to the active roster in time for a July 1 start against the Chicago White Sox. Lachemann said they’ll be harsh judges. “If there’s any doubt, we would take more time with him,” he said. Lachemann said reliever Gary Lucas will pitch Thursday at Palm Springs, too. “He’ll probably go a couple innings, maybe three.” . . . Jim Slaton’s status as a middle-long reliever or starter will depend on Candelaria’s performance, Lachemann said. . . . Angel Manager Gene Mauch responded Monday to a quote attributed to him that suggested the Texas Rangers might be in first place now, but would finish in last place by season’s end. Dallas area newspapers have referred to the supposed remark in several stories and columns. Mauch said he never said such a thing. “Listen, I wouldn’t care if I make (the Rangers) mad,” he said, “but I don’t want to make my people mad. You say something like that and they’re thinking, ‘What is he, crazy? What’s he doing?’ What would be the sense of saying that. If I say something, I better gain from it.” . . . All-Star Game voting update: Despite a difficult June (15 for 72, .208), rookie first baseman Wally Joyner still holds a ballot lead over New York Yankee Don Mattingly for the American League starting position. In voting figures released Monday, Joyner has 367,622 votes compared to Mattingly’s 316,868. Reggie Jackson’s bid for a starting outfield position is in jeopardy. Minnesota Twin Kirby Puckett moved within 3,200 votes of Jackson.

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