McCaskill Has to Settle for 1-Hitter : Liriano Spoils Bid in Ninth of Angel Win

Times Staff Writer

It wasn't the prime piece of real estate he was hoping for, but today, Kirk McCaskill does indeed share common ground with Nolan Ryan.

Today, both McCaskill and Ryan own one-hitters that could've been no-hitters if Nelson Liriano played in the National League.

For the second time in six days, Liriano, an infielder for the Toronto Blue Jays, broke up a no-hitter in the ninth inning. First, he deprived Ryan of a sixth no-hit game with a triple Sunday and then came back Friday night to ruin McCaskill's bid in a 9-0 Angel victory over Toronto before 30,958 at Anaheim Stadium.

McCaskill had walked just two batters through eight innings before facing Liriano to open the top of the ninth. Liriano was pinch-hitting for Tom Lawless, in a bid by Blue Jay Manager Jimy Williams to dodge history's bullet twice.

Stunningly, Liriano, a .220 hitter, delivered again, lining McCaskill's first pitch into the gap in left-center field for a double that would stand as Toronto's only hit of the evening.

McCaskill would finish with an anticlimactic one-hitter, the second of his career, and would have to be content with the sheer thrill of the chase.

"I wouldn't say it's a major letdown," McCaskill said. "I can't really think about pitching a no-hitter the way Nolan Ryan does. He's had five or six no-hitters and 10 one-hitters.

"For him, to come so close has to be a big letdown. But for me, it was a pleasure. . . . I guess I'm weird, but to me, it was a real thrill just to get that far."

Considering where McCaskill has been the last two years, such sentiments are understandable. Sidelined through much of 1987 and 1988 with an assortment of arm ailments and coming out of training camp this spring with a 6.49 earned-run average, McCaskill has come very far. Friday's victory improved his record to 4-1 and lowered his ERA to 0.74.

"Based on the spring and his recent history, this is almost inexplicable," Angel Manager Doug Rader said. "I don't think there's any way in the world you could handicap that.

"Maybe Kirk or Lach (Angel pitching coach Marcel Lachemann) had different thoughts about it, but most of us, as realists, can only believe what we've seen lately.

"To me, this is phenomenal. I'm certainly grateful."

Through eight innings, McCaskill had struck out nine, walked two and allowed only a handful of well-hit balls. There were a pair of sharp comebackers by Rance Mulliniks and Rob Ducey that McCaskill snagged with a flick of his glove. A line drive by Jesse Barfield to right fielder Claudell Washington. A line drive by Ernie Whitt to second baseman Johnny Ray.

And, then, there was Barfield's deep drive into the left-field corner with one out in the eighth inning, which seemed to slice hopelessly away from Angel left fielder Dante Bichette.

But Bichette kept plugging, finally backhanding the ball in full stride before slamming against the low fence alongside the foul pole.

"I thought it was gone," McCaskill said. "I thought it was 9-1. Dante made a great play."

And, as they say, those are the type of plays of which no-hitters are made.

"To be honest, I thought it was going to happen," McCaskill said. "That ball, and the ball Ernie Whitt hit, and the ball that hit my glove--you get those kind of plays and you start feeling, 'Maybe this could be it.' "

McCaskill said he expected to see Liriano in the ninth inning, considering that Lawless, the No. 9 hitter in Toronto's lineup, was to lead off the inning--and he events of Sunday afternoon with Ryan on the mound.

"Baseball's a pretty superstitious sport," McCaskill said. "I figured he'd be up there."

What surprised McCaskill, however, was his emotional state at the moment--or, rather, his lack of an emotional state.

"I always dreamed about being in that situation, just like every pitcher does," he said. "I was surprised at how relaxed I was. I just tried to make him hit a ground ball.

"But I got the ball a little bit up and he got a nice hit on it."

Five days earlier, the hit had been a triple to right off Ryan. Liriano apparently not only specializes in spoiling no-hitters--he does it to all fields.

"The pitch he hit off Ryan was almost identical to the one tonight," Rader said. "The first one he jerks down the right-field line, the second he hits the other way into the gap. How do you figure it?"

The Blue Jays had to wonder about the hit, too, although for different reasons. Because of the lopsided score, Toronto first baseman Fred McGriff doubted Liriano would see any pitch worth driving.

"In this type of game, I didn't think he'd give us anything to hit," McGriff said. "He could've just put a guy on first."

McCaskill was working with a 9-0 lead, presented him by a 14-hit Angel attack that included a two-run home run and a two-run double by Jack Howell, three hits apiece by Ray and Devon White and a two-run double by Bichette.

McCaskill wound up putting a runner on second base, which wound up costing him what would have been the eighth no-hitter in Angel history. Instead, McCaskill settled for the 14th one-hitter in club history and the second of his career, matching the feat he turned against the Texas Rangers on June 25, 1986.

If not for Nelson . . .

Rader mulled Liriano's pinch-double over a few moments and had to muse aloud. "You wonder why the guy didn't start," Rader said.

Lately, Liriano has had more success ending things.

Angel Notes

Bothered by a bruised right knee, Brian Downing asked for a rare night off and, as Angel Manager Doug Rader put it, "When Brian asks, he gets it." Downing injured the knee Thursday night while sliding into second base, attempting to stretch a single into a double. "He just jammed it right into the ground," Angel trainer Rick Smith said. "He needs a day to rest it. It's better than it was (Thursday), but it's still not good enough to grind on." . . . Thursday's 10-run offensive outburst, undoubtedly a jolt to Angel systems, nearly caught leadoff hitter Claudell Washington verbally leaning the wrong way. Said Washington: "This team is more than capable of that. Pitching is going to be our problem--I mean, it will determine whether were going to be successful or not."

Blue Jay pitcher Jeff Musselman, placed on the 21-day disabled list last week because of a "personal emotional problem that required professional treatment," will enter a treatment center in the Toronto area Monday for the care of an alcohol dependency. In a statement issued by the Blue Jays Friday, Musselman said: "This past spring, I approached the Employee Assistance Program of the Toronto Blue Jays . . . to acquire help for my alcohol dependency. I have recently decided I want a more intensive program and have been provided with the finest specialists available. This will ensure the most efficient and quickest solution to dealing with and maintaining my alcohol-free life, as well as fulfilling my potential as a major league pitcher." Musselman, 25, had made three starts with Toronto this season, compiling a 0-1 record with a 10.29 ERA. In his last start, on April 18, Musselman faced just four batters and made 18 pitches. He is expected to remain in the center from 28 to 35 days.

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