The Angels converged, players and coaching staff alike, at home plate before Friday night’s first pitch in sort of an impromptu surprise party for Bob Boone, who was about to catch his 2,000th major-league game.
They greeted Boone with handshakes and claps on the back. They surrounded him while Brian Downing, the reclusive DH, mustered up a few words of tribute in front of the microphone. They handed him a bronze catcher’s mask, a fitting trophy for this throwback to the Bronze Age.
Then, they returned to the dugout and brought out the bats.
Less than two innings later, the Angels had scored all the runs they would need for a 6-4 victory over the Detroit Tigers before an Anaheim Stadium crowd of 34,829. It was the Angels’ seventh victory in a row, making this the club’s longest winning streak of 1988 and making this an historic evening in more ways that one.
With Oakland losing, 1-0, to Toronto, the Angels climbed to within 10 1/2 games of first place in the American League West. The last time the Angels were that close to the stop of the standings, the date was May 13 and Boone was stuck on Game 1,962.
Now the Angels are 43-46, edging closer to, yes, third place. Friday, they knocked an All-Star pitcher out of games before he could record five outs. Powered by Jack Howell’s three-run home run in the first inning, the Angels opened a 6-0 lead for Mike Witt before you can say Doyle Alexander, enabling Witt to improve his record to 7-9 with relief aid from Bryan Harvey, who earned his 10th save.
The Angels began the game without home run and RBI leader Chili Davis, who sustained a strained left knee with a hard slide into second base Thursday night. No matter. The Angels scored four runs in the first inning and two more in the second, knocking Alexander out of the game after 1 innings.
Alexander, the Tigers’ lone representative in Tuesday’s All-Star game, looked the part for precisely one out. Then came a single down the left-field line by Johnny Ray and, one out later, a hit-and-run single by Downing that moved Ray to third.
That’s when things turned nasty for Alexander.
Howell followed Downing to the plate and, on a 1-0 pitch, sent his sixth home run of the season over the right-field fence. Instant 3-0 Angel advantage.
Jim Eppard and Tony Armas, together in the lineup because of Davis’ injury, combined for another run. Eppard, starting in left field for the Angels, hit a flare down the left-field line that bounced under the glove of a diving Pat Sheridan. By the Sheridan arose and retrieved the ball, Eppard was on third with his first triple of the season. Armas, moving from left field to right to replace Davis, added a single and the Angels had a 4-0 lead.
Alexander staggered out of the first inning--and never made it out of the second. After striking out Devon White to open the inning, he walked Ray, surrendered a run-scoring double to Wally Joyner and walked Downing.
At that point, Tiger Manager Sparky Anderson interceded and reliever Paul Gibson was summoned from the bullpen. Gibson got the second out of the inning but before he could record the third, Eppard singled to center to bring home the Angels’ sixth run.
Presented with this lead, Witt, still searching for his long-lost consistency, immediately gave half of it back.
With one out in the top of the third inning, Ivan (.133) DeJesus singled, Gary (.228) Pettis walked and Lou Whitaker beat out a scratch single to load the bases. A grounder to first by Sheridan brought home one run and a single to center by Chet Lemon scored two more.
It took a fly out to deep right field by Darrell Evans to end the inning.
Detroit sliced the deficit to 6-4 just as soon as the next Tiger picked up a bat. Luis Salazar, Detroit’s utilityman-turned-MVP-candidate, opened the fourth inning with his 11th home run of the season. Salazar also has 46 RBIs, making him the Tigers’ leader in that department.
Witt yielded a one-out single to Dave Bergman but escaped the fourth without further damage. And, finally, he settled into a groove that saw him retire 10 consecutive batters before Whitaker’s leadoff single in the top of the eighth.
When Lemon followed Whitaker with a one-out single, placing the tying run on base, Angel Manager Cookie Rojas decided to change pitchers. In came Harvey and out went the Tigers, with Evans popping to shortstop and Salazar flying to left.
Harvey had to pitch out of more trouble in the ninth--this created by his own doing. Harvey walked Matt Nokes and surrendered a single to pinch-hitter Ray Knight, but wriggled out of the predicament by getting Pettis to hit into a force play and Whitaker to ground to first.
Harvey had his 10th save, Boone had caught his 2,000th game and the Angels had won their seventh straight. Will wonders never cease?
A couple of notes on Bob Boone catching his 2,000th major league game: Before Boone, only 35 non-outfielders had appeared in 2,000 games at one position. There have been 11 first basemen, 7 second basemen, 10 shortstops and 7 third basemen--with Philadelphia Phillies third baseman Mike Schmidt being the last before Boone to reach that plateau. Schmidt played his 2,000th game at third in 1987. Also, in 16 seasons with the Phillies and the Angels, Boone has not spent a day on the disabled list and at 40, he remains the most durable catcher in the Angel organization. Consider that Butch Wynegar (arthritic toe condition) and Darrell Miller (strained knee ligaments) are currently on the disabled list while top catching prospects Edwin Marquez (sore hand) and John Orton (elbow surgery) are also sidelined. Orton, the club’s No. 1 draft choice in 1987, has begun working out at Anaheim Stadium with the Angels and is not expected to play again this season. The Angels want him to strengthen his repaired throwing arm in preparation for this winter’s Instructional League. Orton is regarded as the eventual successor to Boone--just in case one is ever needed.
Rehabilitation assignments: Second baseman Mark McLemore continues to plug away at Palm Springs, batting .250 (5 for 20) with 1 triple and 1 run batted in in 5 games for the Class A team. With Angel Manager Cookie Rojas intent on keeping Johnny Ray at second base and Devon White in the leadoff spot, the Angels are apparently in no hurry to bring McLemore back, leaving his return to the active roster an open-ended issue. Meanwhile, relief pitcher DeWayne Buice (left hamstring) is scheduled to leave for Edmonton Sunday to begin pitching himself back into shape. Why Edmonton and not Palm Springs, the usual destination for Angels on the mend? “Better competition,” Buice said. “They want me to pitch there three or four times before they make a decision. This way, I don’t have to commute back and forth. Believe me, I don’t mind. It could be a hell of a lot worse. I still could be hurt.”
Angels’ Hot July
Date Score July 1 Detroit 11, Angels 0 July 2 Detroit 6, Angels 1 July 3 Angels 10, Detroit 4 July 4 Angels 11, Toronto 6 July 5 Toronto 4, Angels 1 July 6 Angels 5, Toronto 4 July 7 Angels 7, Cleveland 1 July 8 Angels 10, Cleveland 6 July 9 Angels 8, Cleveland 5 July 10 Angels 7, Cleveland 5 July 14 Angels 2, Detroit 0 July 15 Angels 6, Detroit 4