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Angels Bang the Drum on the Corner

Heaven must be helping the Angels. How else could this team have become one of the hottest in baseball?

Gene Mauch’s roster used to have more stars than the sidewalk in front of that Chinese theater in Hollywood. He had Rod Carew, Reggie Jackson, Bobby Grich. He played celebrity baseball. His boys had experience, savvy, talent. They never won ugly. They won pretty.

Now, take a look at this year’s Angels. Goodwill Gene’s salvation army. If ever a pile of discards won a pennant, it might be this one.

Starting pitcher Jerry Reuss already has been released this season by two teams.

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Relief pitcher Greg Minton, another beneficiary of California’s drive to Help the Homeless, also was cut loose by somebody else.

Relief pitcher Donnie Moore worked fewer than 22 innings before going on the disabled list.

Relief pitcher DeWayne Buice, who leads the team in saves, began his professional career in 1977 and, going into the 1987 season, his victory total in the major leagues was zero. Matter of fact, his inning total in the majors was zero.

Relief pitcher Chuck Finley this season has an earned-run average of 4.38. Reliever Gary Lucas has an ERA of 5.79.

Starting pitcher Kirk McCaskill pitched only 21 innings this season before going on the disabled list.

Starting pitcher John Candelaria had to take some time off because of a personal matter.

Starting pitcher Don Sutton, who was born during World War II, lost 8 of his first 12 decisions.

Starting pitcher Willie Fraser made the All-Star team last season--the Class A California League All-Star team.

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Starting pitcher Jack Lazorko pitched 6 innings in the majors last season.

Outfielder George Hendrick spent part of the season on the disabled list and the other part on what his teammates call “the Interstate"--their term for a batting average that begins with a 1. As in “I-94.”

Shortstop Dick Schofield recently went through a stretch in which he went 15 for 115, and is batting .221. Third baseman Doug DeCinces is at .237. Second baseman Mark McLemore is at .228. Outfielder Gary Pettis is at .221. Nobody on the roster is hitting .300. First baseman Wally Joyner’s leg is killing him.

And the Angels were making a run at first place.

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How this happened, nobody knows. Mauch simply thinks his players started playing the way they know how. Maybe General Manager Mike Port got under their skin when he said: “I figure 25% of the roster is functioning up to capability. The other 75% are capable of a lot better.”

Around the time Port said that, Angel pitchers had given up more home runs than any staff in the American League, and the club was wobbling its way through a nine-game losing streak. They had about as much chance of repeating as division champions as the staggering Red Sox did.

Now, only a couple of weeks later, the Angels are back in business. They are winning again. They look like their old selves. “Coming to the park is fun again,” outfielder Brian Downing said.

Want to know how the Angels salvaged the season? Count the ways, beginning with this one:

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Devon White.

Devon has been divine. Were it not for Mark McGwire, this 24-year-old speedball from Jamaica would have the American League Rookie of the Year award all locked up. And there’s a lot of season to go, so don’t count him out yet.

White and McLemore have given the Angels speed on the bases. White, Joyner, Downing and Jack Howell have given them power. Schofield and Pettis continue to do the most difficult thing in baseball, keep playing good defense even when their bats haven’t been working.

Fraser has been a find. He is doing all the things Urbano Lugo was supposed to do. Buice also has been a find. He comes at you with that Luis Tiant windup of his and tosses up some junk and throws it right by you.

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And then there is Bob Boone. Boone has done one big thing for the Angels this season. He has come back to them. That is all they needed him to do. Come back.

With a pitching staff like this one, full of castoffs and golden-agers and bushers, Boone’s presence behind the plate has meant a lot to the Angels. Boone certainly is worth the salary he eventually received, and it is good to have him around.

More than anything else, the Angels have changed the percentages. Around 75% of them are now playing the way they are capable of playing. When that happens, it’s not a bad little ball club.

“I’m not surprised by the way we’re playing,” Mauch said. “I’m only surprised that it took us so long to start playing this way.”

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Now, if the National League will only release a few more pitchers so they can sign them, the Angels will be all set.


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