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Defense Fails Witt as Angels Beaten by Athletics, 6-2

Times Staff Writer

Back spasms were the least of Mike Witt’s troubles Tuesday night. Defensive spasms, that’s what really hurt.

Witt, the Angel pitcher who wrenched his back a week ago trying to pull up his socks, had his return to the rotation sabotaged by a defense that couldn’t pick up a baseball. Witt’s back held up fine during the seven innings he pitched. But Angel gloves let him down in the fourth inning, with 3 errors and 4 unearned runs helping turn his comeback into a 6-2 loss to the Oakland Athletics in Anaheim Stadium.

Witt (7-10) took a perfect game into the fourth inning, which he opened by striking out Luis Polonia.

That’s where imperfection took hold--and didn’t let go until the entire Oakland lineup got a chance to bat.

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Angel catcher Darrell Miller failed to scoop Witt’s third strike to Polonia out of the dirt and by the time Miller beat the ball into submission, Polonia was standing on first base. That gave the A’s a chance to play hit-and-run--and hit-and-run they did, with Carney Lansford singling behind Polonia and Polonia sprinting to third.

Witt came back to strike out Jose Canseco, with Miller catching every pitch. Witt also retired Mark McGwire on a high fly ball to right field, but the out was long enough to enable Polonia to tag and score from third.

So Oakland led, 1-0, but the damage appeared minimal. Especially when the inning appeared to be over on Ron Hassey’s routine grounder to second baseman Johnny Ray.

But nothing was routine for the Angel defense in this inning and Ray’s glove clutched only air. Error No. 1, runners on first and second, two outs.

Dave Henderson, Angel villain of playoffs past, batted next and lined a single to right-center. Lansford scored, Hassey hustled toward third and Angel center fielder Devon White skipped a throw into third base.

And the ball kept skipping, beyond the reach of Angel third baseman Jack Howell. Error No. 2. Hassey rounded third and Witt, backing up the play, fired home a high relay that took Miller off his feet to pull down. Hassey scored and Henderson pulled into third.

Stan Javier followed with a ground ball to Howell, who one-hopped a throw to first base. Javier beat the bouncing ball for a scratch single and Henderson gave Oakland a 4-0 lead.

A double by Tony Phillips made it 5-0, but before the play was over, Ray had his second error of the inning, bobbling the outfield relay and allowing Phillips to advance to third. Witt, however, finally stranded Phillips when Walter Weiss hit a grounder that Ray finally fielded cleanly.

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Five Oakland runs. Three Angel errors. Four unearned runs.

It was, as Angel Manager Cookie Rojas might say, one hell of an inning.

And its ugly glare overwhelmed the remainder of Witt’s stint--three decent innings, marred only by Lansford’s solo home run in the seventh inning.

Witt also loaded the bases in the sixth inning on a single by Henderson and two walks, but pitched out of the predicament by retiring Polonia on a grounder to first. Pitching for the first time since July 15, Witt lasted 7 innings, gave up 6 hits and 2 walks. He also gave up only 2 earned runs.

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But about those other four . . .

Four Angel errors--shortstop Dick Schofield also kicked a ball in the fifth inning--paved the way for Storm Davis’ ninth victory this season. Davis (9-4) pitched the first 6 innings for Oakland, surrendering one run on Thad Bosley’s RBI double and being charged with another in the seventh.

Davis left the game with one out and Miller on first base. Rick Honeycutt came on to surrender a double to White and a run-scoring grounder to Ray before bringing the inning to an end.

Gene Nelson was then summoned from the A’s bullpen to finish the last two innings, which he did in allowing one hit, a ninth-inning double to Miller.

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Miller got as far as third base when he tagged on a long fly out by pinch-hitter Jim Eppard. But he stayed there when White tapped back to Nelson for the final out.

The Angels managed a total of 8 hits, including a ground-rule double by Brian Downing in the sixth inning. With the hit, Downing became the Angels’ all-time leader in total bases with 2,114.

They also totaled four errors, with Dick Schofield kicking another ball in the fifth inning. And those were easily the most significant numbers on this evening.

Angel Notes

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Dan Petry threw for 15 minutes on the sidelines before Tuesday’s game, worked up a good sweat and didn’t even re-aggravate the sprained ligaments in his right ankle. “Very encouraging,” Angel Manager Cookie Rojas. “He threw the ball good and only felt (a twinge) in his ankle a couple of times.” Said Petry: “I didn’t really try to test it. I didn’t throw as hard as I can. I wanted to take it till just before it started hurting.” Rojas said Petry will accompany the Angels on their upcoming seven-game trip to Chicago and Seattle, but there are still no plans of re-activating him soon. “I can’t tell you when I might be ready,” Petry said. “I thought I was close a week ago. There’s no way to tell. It could be 10 days, two weeks, 11 days. Two days after I hurt it, I was running on it and it didn’t seem that serious. That was five weeks ago.” Petry injured the ankle on June 20 in Minnesota and has been on the disabled list since July 1, although he says, “I think I could’ve hit on it three weeks ago. I know I can run on it now. It’s just the particular motion it takes to pitch that’s the problem.”

Petry’s protracted recovery has benefitted one Angel--struggling starting pitcher Willie Fraser. Fraser is 6-10 with a 6.26 ERA, has yielded 23 home runs in 21 appearances and has allowed 180 baserunners in 110 innings. But he remains on the Angel roster and in the starting rotation, mainly because of Petry’s ankle.


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