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Once Again, Slumping Angels at a Loss Against Blue Jays, 9-4

Times Staff Writer

The tattered, shattered Angels reconvened at Anaheim Stadium Saturday evening, taking consolation only in the notion that there was no possible way things could get worse. Not after Friday night.

The pathetic scene of Devon White pinch-hitting in the ninth inning with torn cartilage in his right knee, less than 12 hours away from scheduled surgery, is one that should linger--a reminder of the lowest day in an Angel season that has yet to experience a high.

Saturday morning, long before the Angels lost their fourth straight game, this time by a 9-4 score to the Toronto Blue Jays, White, the team’s center fielder, underwent arthroscopic surgery to remove damaged knee cartilage, a procedure that will keep him sidelined for the next 6 to 8 weeks.

Attending physician Dr. Lewis Yocum termed the 35-minute operation “successful"--which is more than the Angels can say about the events leading to White’s trip to Centinela Hospital Medical Center.

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Questions about Weird Friday persisted as the Angels prepared for yet another defeat, this the team’s 14th in its last 19 games.

Why did the club release Bill Buckner before receiving test results on the severity of White’s injury?

Why was White stepping into the batter’s box, torn cartilage and all, to hit left-handed against Tom Henke, one of baseball’s hardest-throwing relief pitchers?

If the Angels needed a left-handed pinch-hitter so desperately, what was Bill Buckner doing on the American League waiver list?

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And why wasn’t the torn cartilage in White’s knee diagnosed earlier, so he wouldn’t have spent most of the past month risking greater injury by playing on it?

Angel Manager Cookie Rojas admitted he wouldn’t have played White had he known then what he knows now.

“We played Devo because the doctors said he was fine,” Rojas said. “If I had known the extent of the injury, I would not have played him.”

White first hurt his knee on a hard slide into second base against the Chicago White Sox in Anaheim April 13. Five days later, he missed a start against the Oakland Athletics for what was officially termed “fluid on the right knee.”

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The next day, White was back in the starting lineup. And there he remained until April 28, when he missed another start for what Angel trainers called “a sprained right knee.”

By the first week of May, White began to fear it might be more than that. Thursday, he consulted Yocum for a preliminary examination before Friday’s in-hospital battery of tests.

“He took a look at it (Thursday), and he said there was a good chance there was a tear in there,” White said after Friday night’s game. “When I went in (Friday), I had an idea what the problem was.”

White said his condition worsened in “about the last week-and-a-half,” adding: “It could be that I aggravated it again there.”

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Angel General Manager Mike Port was asked Saturday if the club’s medical staff erred or misdiagnosed White’s initial injury.

“Not at all,” Port said sharply. “To question anything along that line is to question the judgment of our doctors.”

However . . .

“Was (the injury) as emphatic a problem initially as it is now? Possibly not,” Port said. “It possibly became more severe after the most recent incident . . . .If you look at an injury on a scale of 1 to 5, do you start out a ‘1' and then aggravate it and then reach a point two weeks later and it’s a ‘5'? I don’t know, but it probably is possible.”

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Rick Down, a batting instructor with the Angels, is a veteran of five knee-cartilage operations. He outlined the chronology typically associated with such an injury.

“With any kind of (knee) aggravation, there’s going to be fluid,” Down said. “The trainers had to diagnose it as something. And they don’t do a whole lot before Yocum gives an opinion on the injury. When he examined Devo, he diagnosed it right away.”

Should Yocum, then, have been consulted earlier?

“Devo felt he bruised his knee, so he went to the trainers,” Down said. “Trainers don’t play doctor. I’m pretty sure Devo tried to play through it. I know Devo pretty well, and he can play with pain. Pain only becomes a problem when it affects you mentally, your approach to how you play. That’s when you take care it.”

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Said Angel second baseman Mark McLemore, White’s closest friend on the team: “Devo’s a gamer. He’s gonna do it until he can’t do it any more.”

By Friday, however, it was determined that White couldn’t do it anymore without surgery. So why was he called upon to pinch-hit with two outs in the ninth inning of a 3-2 Angel loss?

Port claimed there “was no risk at all” in having White pinch-hit in that situation. The medical advice we received was that Devon would be available on ‘a limited basis.’ I submit that that was on ‘a limited basis.’

“Can a player play with torn cartilage? Certainly. Some people have played all year with torn cartilage. . . . It depends on the extent of the damage and what one can tolerate.”

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Still, wouldn’t a healthy Buckner have been a preferable pinch-hit option, rather than a hobbled White?

Port conceded that point.

“In hindsight, that’s the thing I would have done differently,” he said. “I’d have let Bill go after the game, or perhaps today.”

Port insisted that he would have released Buckner either way--injury to White or no.

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“Let’s suppose we found out first about Devon,” Port said. “Essentially, we’ve said to ourselves, ‘Tony Armas will now play center field, and what are we going to do for a center fielder if Armas gets hurt? That made (Edmonton center fielder) Chico Walker Step No. 1.

“After that, we would still be contemplating a way to get Brian Downing back on the roster.”

So, according to Port, Buckner was a goner, despite the fact he represented the club’s lone left-handed pinch-hitting threat. Instead, the Angels are left with what must be the major league lead in utility players--3, out of 14 total position players--with Walker joining Gus Polidor and Junior Noboa.

At least, Rojas can no longer complain of a lack of pinch-runners.

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Runs, meanwhile, remain lacking, and the Angels could manage only 4 despite 11 hits Saturday night. The most glaring example of Angel waste came in the seventh inning, when they put runners on second and third with no outs--and came away empty-handed.

Trailing, 6-4, at that point, the Angels opened the bottom of the seventh with singles by Wally Joyner and Chili Davis, the second compounded by a fielding error by Toronto right fielder Jesse Barfield.

But Joyner and Davis were left stranded in scoring position when Johnny Ray flied to shallow left field, Armas struck out, and pinch-hitter George Hendrick popped out.

The Angels were on their way to their 19th loss in their first 30 games . . . and Port was on his way back to the telephone, trying to scrounge up some help via an uncooperative trade market.

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“Our trade talks have been in about 12th gear since the third day of the season,” Port said, finally managing a grin. “If we accelerate any faster, the phone will melt. Obviously, we haven’t gotten anything done.”

Not in the front office. And certainly, not on the field.

Angel Notes

One week into the month of May and already Manager Cookie Rojas is showing signs of strain. After Saturday night’s loss dropped the last-place Angels to 11-19 and 11 1/2 games behind Oakland in the American League West, Rojas refused for the first time to talk with the media. For 15 minutes after the game, Rojas kept his office door closed, allowing only General Manager Mike Port to enter. Once Port left, Rojas, already showered and dressed, quickly did the same. “I’ve got no comment tonight, gentlemen,” Rojas tersely told reporters. “Zero. I apologize for that.” . . . Relief pitcher Donnie Moore also turned away all notepads and microphones after his one-inning stint. Moore pitched the ninth and surrendered 3 runs on 3 hits and 2 walks, turning a 6-4 game into a 9-4 runaway. . . . Willie Fraser (3-2) lost his second consecutive decision by yielding 6 runs on 8 hits through 6 innings. Included among those hits were solo home runs by George Bell and Rance Mulliniks and a triple by Bell on another bounding ball that eluded the glove of Angel right fielder Chili Davis.

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