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Angels Swept by Tigers but Stay Upbeat

<i> Times Staff Writer </i>

Contending for the title, American League East style: If you’re the Detroit Tigers, you win 15 of your last 20 games, including a weekend sweep of the Angels, and pull within one game of first place.

Contending for the title, American League West style: If you’re the Angels, you lose your third straight game to the Tigers Sunday, 6-2, but you don’t hang your heads. Instead, you turn around and embrace your best friend--the AL West standings.

“We’re blessed,” said Angel Manager Gene Mauch, whose team remained 3 1/2 games behind Minnesota because the first-place Twins once again matched an Angel loss with one of their own.

“Everybody else is slipping and sliding around,” Mauch said. “We hit a little snag here, but somebody’s looking over us, keeping things under control, so we can stay in position to make a run at these people.”

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The Angels are one game above .500 (50-49) and 4-6 on this current trip, yet have dropped only a half-game on Minnesota since leaving home. Texas, after an abysmal start, is now within 4 1/2 games of first, and sixth-place Seattle is only six games back.

Welcome to the feel-good division: I’m OK, you’re OK, nobody’s great, but somebody’s going to make the playoffs.

The Angels are closing in on August, and the so-called stretch run, with a group of starting pitchers who haven’t produced a complete-game victory since June 28. In the month of July, Angel starters have pitched beyond the sixth inning just five times, and only Mike Witt has lasted as long as 7 innings.

Sunday, Willie Fraser (6-7) became the latest not to reach the seventh inning. Shoulder stiffness forced Fraser out after six innings, after he had surrendered a two-run double to Matt Nokes and a two-run home run to Jim Walewander, the first of the rookie infielder’s major league career.

Fraser left, trailing, 4-2, before the Tigers added two unearned runs against Gary Lucas in the seventh.

“This is something I’ve been told that I’ll have to deal with all season,” Fraser said of his shoulder stiffness, which is caused by muscle fatigue. “Now, I realize it. The doctors say there’s no way I’ll be strong enough to go nine innings. I just have to try to pitch through it.”

Fraser had been knocked out of his last start in the fourth inning when a line drive by Boston’s Wade Boggs hit him on his right hand, but Fraser claimed the hand didn’t bother him Sunday.

“I have no excuse for what happened,” he said. “It’s not like they got a ton of hits off me (the Tigers totaled six against Fraser). They just hit a couple of balls hard.”

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In that category, file the balls hit by Kirk Gibson, Nokes and Walewander.

Gibson doubled home Darrell Evans in the first inning and then scored on another two-base hit by Nokes. After four scoreless innings, Fraser issued a one-out walk to Chet Lemon in the sixth and a two-out home run to Walewander.

Walewander’s home run was Detroit’s seventh of the series--and the most unlikely. In his previous 1,662 at-bats, almost all coming in the minor leagues, Walewander had homered just once.

Someone retrieved the baseball and gave it to Walewander after the game. It was a special moment. Walewander said he had a special place for the ball.

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“I’m gonna put it my glove compartment,” he said.

Why?

“Because that’s where I put the other one, my first (major league) hit,” he said.

Again, the question could be asked: Why?

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“Well, when I fill up the glove compartment, I’ll buy a new car,” he explained.

Oh. Of course.

It takes all types--and all types of hitters have been reaching the seats against Angel starting pitching lately. Since the All-Star break, Angel starters have allowed 17 home runs in 10 games. Those figures look worse when one considers that, over that span, Angel starters worked a total of just 46 innings, yielding 59 hits and 39 earned runs (a 7.63 ERA).

Fraser called the recent run “a lull.”

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“Some people just go through lulls around this time of year,” he said. “Then, they get their second wind.

“I thought we’d had a pretty good trip up till here. And if we take two of three from Oakland, we won’t be that far back. This is not a big skid or nothing. We just ran into a team that we’ve struggled against all year.”

The Tigers’ final 1987 record of 9-3 against the Angels supports Fraser’s thinking.

And so does Mauch.

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“We haven’t matched up well against Detroit the whole damn year,” he said. “They seem very comfortable against our pitching. Witt has only pitched against them once and we don’t match up against their pitchers real well.

“It’s pretty hard to play Boston, Milwaukee and Detroit in a row and get well against them, especially when your starters aren’t going into the seventh and eighth innings very often.

“If we’d have pulled out that game today, we’d be 5-5 (on the trip). That’d be super. Great.”

That is, if you happen to be a resident of the American League West.

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Angel Notes

It was a big day all around for Tiger rookie Jim Walewander. Walewander, 26, is a punk rock fan, and his favorite band, The Dead Milkmen, was in town for a Saturday night concert. Walewander saw the show and invited the group to Sunday’s game. They accepted. “They’re big baseball fans,” said Detroit Manager Sparky Anderson, who posed with Walewander and the group for photos before the game. Sparky, though, had a little trouble dealing with the group’s name. He kept referring to them as “The Four Milkmen” and “The Dead Freshmen.”

Wally Joyner sat out Sunday’s game to give his bruised ribs a rest. “I want him to lead the league in RBIs, but he can’t do that without a bat in his hands,” Mauch said. “If he does lead the league in RBIs, we’ll get what we want.” Joyner’s status is listed as day-to-day, but Mauch said he had “no idea” when Joyner will be ready to play. Angel trainer Rick Smith said he was hopeful Joyner could return to the lineup during the club’s upcoming three-game series in Oakland. “That’s what we’re working toward,” Smith said. . . . John Candelaria threw for 10 minutes on the sideline before the game and got better the longer he pitched, according to Mauch. “He’s thrown the ball decent in the last part of both of his workouts,” Mauch said. “If we were going home, we’d probably have him pitch a simulated game Tuesday. If we can arrange to get the field early enough in Oakland, we may have simulated game yet.” . . . Willie Fraser struck out four batters, but his most productive move may have been when he struck Tiger catcher Matt Nokes on the knee with a pitch in the fourth inning. Nokes was forced out of the game with a bruise, which meant the Angels were finally through with Nokes for the season. Against Angel pitching in 1987, Nokes went 14 for 34 (.412) with 6 home runs.


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