Winning should never be this difficult. But, for the Angels, trying to reverse a slump that plunged them into fourth place in the American League West, ease has become a forgotten commodity during the month of May.
Tuesday, the Angels beat the Toronto Blue Jays, 2-1, at Anaheim Stadium. And this is all it took:
--A diving catch by Gary Pettis, who first took a sure basehit away from Ernie Whitt and then threw to second to double up Toronto baserunner Jesse Barfield.
--Mark McLemore driving in the go-ahead run by tapping a grounder into the hole at short, hustling down the line and getting the long end of a controversial ruling by first base umpire Larry Young.
--Donnie Moore pulling his aching body through an agonizing relief stint, outlasting the opposition more than overwhelming it. Moore overcame one error--and a near-error--by left fielder Jack Howell and had to sweat out the game's final out with the tying run on third and the potential winning run on first.
But Moore got that last out, inducing pinch-hitter Fred McGriff to fly out to Pettis in center field, and the Angels had broken a three-game losing streak, winning for only the second time in a week.
"Not everybody likes to see that kind of game, but I do," said a relieved Gene Mauch, the Angels' manager. "Good pitching, good defense . . . although I would've like to see more runs.
"But we really needed a well-pitched game. This gets Sunday finally out of my system."
Mauch was referring to the Angels' 3-2 defeat to the Baltimore Orioles, otherwise remembered as Ryal's Lost Mile, when left fielder Mark Ryal let the game's potential final out bounce in front of him and then past him, allowing the Orioles to score the tying and winning runs.
Then there was Monday's 12-0 shelling at the hands of Toronto, dropping the Angels to .500 and into fourth place.
Tuesday, however, Mauch received a combined six-hitter from starter Don Sutton, winner DeWayne Buice (2-2) and Moore, who earned his fifth save. That allowed the Angels to capitalize on only a minimum of offense.
With two outs and the score tied, 1-1, in the bottom of eighth inning, the Angels had Jack Howell on third and Pettis on first when McLemore stepped to the plate. McLemore, who had already driven in the Angels' first run in the fourth, followed with a grounder to deep short.
Toronto shortstop Tony Fernandez gloved the ball in the hole and looked toward second, Pettis' destination. No play there, Fernandez thought.
So, Fernandez threw to first. It was a long throw, and McLemore sprinted to the bag, runner and baseball reaching first base almost simultaneously.
Young, however, ruled that McLemore beat the throw. If he did, it was by the tip of a cleat. Television replays were inconclusive, and Toronto Manager Jimy Williams protested so heatedly that he was ejected from the game.
Fernandez and first baseman Willie Upshaw joined in on the argument.
Said Fernandez: "He was out, no doubt about it."
Said Upshaw: "In my mind, we had him."
But in Young's mind, McLemore was safe. And when McLemore beat the throw, Howell came home to break the tie.
Both managers credited McLemore, but said the key to the play was the speedy Pettis.
"Speed was important on both ends of the play," Mauch said. "Fernandez made his decision when he saw Gary had beaten the play at second.
Added Williams: "Maybe Pettis made the play by getting to second base. I think Tony wanted to throw the ball there."
Pettis also helped take away a Toronto run in the second inning. With Barfield on second base and one out, Whitt hit a sharp line drive to center. Racing in, Pettis dived and gloved the ball inches off the turf. Barfield was all the way to third base when Pettis scambled to his feet and threw to second to complete a double play.
"I'll never know how Pettis got to that ball," Mauch said. "He must be faster than I think. That was a basehit if I ever saw one."
The play helped Sutton, who pitched seven innings, to hold Toronto to one run. Buice came on to work a scoreless eighth and was the pitcher of record when Howell scored the Angels' second run.
In the top of the ninth, Mauch brought on Moore and his troublesome ribs and shoulder. Immediately, Moore found himself in trouble.
The first batter he faced, George Bell, reached second base. Bell singled to left-center and took second when Howell bobbled the ball. Then, Howell nearly misplayed a line drive by Barfield into the game-tying hit--reaching up at the last instant to awkwardly snag the ball.
Moore walked Upshaw and got Whitt to fly deep enough to right to allow Bell to tag and take third. Then came McGriff, a confrontation Moore would win, giving him his fifth save in six save opportunities.
It didn't come easily. But then, with the Angels these days, nothing does.
Jack Lazorko, the fourth minor league pitcher to be recalled by the Angels since opening day, joined the team Tuesday just in time to meet with pitching coach Marcel Lachemann and begin preparations for his start against Toronto tonight. "I'm glad I'm starting right away," Lazorko said. "Wednesday is the day I usually pitch." Lazorko, however, did admit he is joining the Angels under less than ideal circumstances, with the pitching staff currently under siege. "It's tough coming up here now. A lot of changes are going on," Lazorko said. "Hopefully, I can help stabilize things." Lazorko is a 31-year-old junkballer (changeup, sinker, slider) who has toiled in the minors for nearly a decade. "I just try to put the ball in play," he said. "I can't blow the ball by these hitters. My strength is keeping the club in the ballgame. If can give them six or seven innings and keep them in the game, I'll have done my job." . . . Tonight could amount to just a spot start for Lazorko. With off-days Thursday and next Tuesday, Manager Gene Mauch will be able to return to a four-man rotation the rest of the month. And despite Mike Cook's ragged outing Monday (seven hits and five runs in five innings), Mauch said Cook "will probably start again Monday." Said Mauch: "Cook wasn't that bad. He gave up a very expensive dinger (a three-run home run to Ernie Whitt, after Willie Upshaw beat Cook to first base for an infield single). He pitched better than he played. He thought Wally (Joyner) had (Upshaw's) ball and he relaxed. You're not supposed to take those things for granted. He could've possibly got out of that inning with no runs." . . . While Mauch was discussing Monday's 12-0 Angel loss, Chuck Finley was seated about 10 feet down the bench from the manager, staring toward the outfield. Finley was the reliever who allowed seven runs without recording an out in the seventh inning. Mauch noticed Finley sitting there, grinned and raised his voice to needle: "Then there was Finley over there. He stunk." No response from Finley. Mauch again: "He stunk. " Finley just kept staring ahead, seeing no reason to argue. "I was out there," Finley finally responded. "I knew it." . . . Tuesday, Mauch kept Brian Downing out of the starting lineup for the first time this season. Downing is batting .315 but had gone hitless in his previous 12 at-bats. "I've given Brian the day off," Mauch said before the game. "I don't know if he knows it yet, but when he takes a look at that, you're gonna see a big frown on his face. But, in my opinion, he needs it--make that, he'll benefit from it." . . . Add slumps: Before Monday's game, Dick Schofield had three hits in his last 45 at-bats (.067). Gary Pettis, meanwhile, had struck out in 10 straight games and 16 times in his previous 37 at-bats. Pettis has not had an extra-base hit since April 23.