Moore, Healthy Again, Is Ready to Erase the Memories of October, 1986

Times Staff Writer

Donnie Moore knows that Angel fans may never forget that hanging forkball he threw to Dave Henderson in the fifth game of the 1986 American League Championship Series.

Their boos still accompany him to the mound at Anaheim Stadium. And last season's lingering and mysterious back problem denied him any chance to wipe away those memories.

Off-season surgery to remove a small bone spur near his spine gave Moore another opportunity to win the favor of the Angel faithful, but it just didn't happen that way. He came out of spring training with a stiff back and a limp fastball. Then he hurt his knee and was back on the disabled list, and he missed a month between May 11 and June 17.

And when he was healthy enough to pitch, the memories were anything but fond.

When Moore walked in from the bullpen to start the 11th inning of Wednesday's game against the Oakland Athletics, those who stood and jeered probably were thinking of Henderson and homers and the World Series that never was. Which was good news for Moore. If they had remembered his previous two outings against the Athletics, they probably would have been throwing things.

On April 9 at the Big A, Mark McGwire hit a rocket into the left-field seats for a three-run homer off Moore as the A's scored four in the ninth to beat the Angels, 8-6. On April 20 in Oakland, Moore gave up a three-run homer to Ron Hassey as the A's put together a four-run eighth to defeat the Angels, 9-8.

Wednesday, however, Moore helped bring about a happy ending for a change. He allowed one hit and struck out three in two innings, and the Angels pulled out a 9-8 victory in 12 innings.

Moore, who picked up the victory to boost his record to 4-2, says the story was different because he's a different pitcher these days. He concedes that his previous failures against the A's crossed his mind Wednesday--especially when Hassey came up to pinch-hit with two out and a runner on in the 11th--but he was looking for revenge, not a place to hide.

"It was different this time because I'm healthy now," Moore said. "I have my confidence back. I can just rear back and throw again.

"I'm throwing as hard as I ever did, and I'm hitting good spots. I've had a good split-finger (fastball), and that helps the fastball. It hasn't been anything spectacular. I'm just throwing quality strikes again."

In the past three weeks, Moore has picked up three saves and a victory. In his last 11 appearances, he has been scored on just three times. As far as Manager Cookie Rojas and Co. are concerned, that's spectacular enough.

They are old and faded memories, but Moore is starting to look a little like the reliever who saved 52 games in 1985 and '86 and received a million-dollar-a-year, three-year contract, which runs out this season.

"He's pitching very, very well," Rojas said. "The forkball is working and the fastball is popping again. He's throwing strikes. I fully trust him to do the job."

Moore hopes that this recent return to form marks the end of "two years of agony." He was referring to the back pain, of course, but he says the mental anguish he experienced was almost as frustrating.

He has lived with the boos. He read the papers when General Manager Mike Port hinted late last year that Moore might be a malingerer. And it hurt.

He was glad when the tiny bone spur was finally discovered and removed after batteries of tests and countless injections. But a six-inch scar down the middle of his spine was not the vindication he sought.

A few more outings like Wednesday's could be the ultimate panacea, however.

"I'm just trying to get myself back," Moore said. "I don't know if I'll be here next year and I have to prove to someone I can still pitch."

Moore may never be able to erase the nightmarish memories of October 12, 1986, but who knows? He may be able to find a new home, pick up a few saves and hear applause, for a change, as he walks out to the mound.

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