Just when it seemed as if they could do no wrong, the Angels were brought back to reality Wednesday night.
Kirk McCaskill had pitched eight scoreless innings, lowering his American League-leading earned-run average to 0.87. The Angels led, 2-0, and they were ready to return home with a seven-game winning streak.
But the Tigers (9-22), owners of baseball's worst record, rallied for three runs off reliever Bryan Harvey in the ninth inning to bring the Angels down to earth, 3-2, before 13,187 fans at Tiger Stadium.
"We're not going to put together a 140-game winning streak," Manager Doug Rader said. "It'd be nice, but it won't happen. This doesn't put any damper on this trip. The things these guys accomplished on this trip cannot be overshadowed.
"The hard part is we were three outs from winning, and sure, that hurts. But anytime you have good pitching, win or lose, it's a plus. Hell, we could have won every game on this trip."
Wednesday night's defeat mirrored the only other loss on the eight-game swing through the American League East, when Greg Minton walked three in the seventh and the Baltimore Orioles rallied for a 4-3 victory eight days ago.
Harvey, who had not pitched in four days, gave up a single to Gary Ward leading off the ninth. He got Lou Whitaker to pop out to second base, but that was his last out.
Harvey walked Alan Trammell and Fred Lynn to load the bases, and then Matt Nokes hit a line drive toward the gap in right-center. Right fielder Dante Bichette, who had been circling under balls caught in the stiff crosswinds throughout the three-game series, seemed to have a bead on this one. But he hesitated momentarily, and the ball sailed by his outstretched glove, allowing two runs to score.
"It was the lights that got me this time," Bichette said. "I should have had it, but it went in the lights. I waited for it to come out and it went by me. I was trying not to overrun it.
"Most of the balls hit out there get to a certain point and just die in that wind like they've hit a wall and drop straight down. But this was more of a line drive and it carried more."
Designated hitter Keith Moreland then hit a shot to left field that sailed over the head of a drawn-in Chili Davis, and the Tigers finally had a victory over the Angels this season after five consecutive losses.
McCaskill, who has given up just five runs in seven outings, is still 4-1 with two no-decisions. He admitted that he would have liked to pitch the ninth, but said he couldn't argue with Rader's decision to go to Harvey.
"I can honestly say I was very, very fortunate tonight," he said. "They hit some balls very hard against me, but the wind held them in. I wasn't very sharp.
"You can debate whether you should go to Harvey or not, but I was lucky to have ridden it as far as I did. I actually thought the eighth was my best inning, but when you compare Bryan's stuff to my stuff at that point, I have absolutely no qualms about handing the ball over to Bryan."
This game didn't hinge on Harvey's pitching, however. It came down to a matter of location.
"I have no excuses," said Harvey, who had six saves in six opportunities before blowing this one.
Harvey had allowed only one earned run in nine previous appearances.
"You can't walk two guys in the ninth," he said. "It was just one of those nights. I can't use lack of work as an excuse. I can throw in the bullpen whenever I want and it's my job to stay sharp. The pitch to Moreland was right down the (middle). I was just trying to throw a strike. I couldn't have put it up on a tee any better."
For eight innings, however, it looked like another patented Angel victory in their early-season streak: A lot of good pitching and just enough hitting.
The Angels got a run in the fifth inning on Davis' double and Bill Schroeder's single. And they went ahead, 2-0, in the sixth on a single and stolen base by Dick Schofield, Brian Downing's single and a run-scoring ground-out by Lance Parrish.
McCaskill, meanwhile, may have been struggling a bit, but he looked good from a distance. He allowed five hits but faced only four batters over the minimum through eight inning, due to two double plays.
"To say this was a tough one to lose is definitely an understatement," McCaskill said. "But these things happen in baseball. We were playing so well and the Tigers so badly, this was just the time for this to happen.
"But this isn't a setback for us in any way. We'll bounce right back."
Rader, who this season has been calm despite a reputation as a hothead, seemed close to his first blow-up when reporters approached him after the game. Red-faced, he tore off one of his socks with a vengeance, but quickly managed to find his poise.
"I know one thing, Harv will get to go out in that situation every time," he said, anticipating the question about his decision to remove McCaskill before being asked. "And in defense of Harvey, he hasn't had a steady workload."
That is testimony to the Angel starters' sterling early-season performance. So, although the Angels may have been given a dose of reality Wednesday night, their pitching remains solid.
In other words, they'll take eight innings of shutout pitching and Bryan Harvey in the ninth any day.
Sometimes, a little misinformation can go a long way. Before Tuesday night's game, an Angel publicist announced that Bert Blyleven had not won a game in Tiger Stadium since 1977. When Blyleven was the winning pitcher in the Angels' 5-1 victory over the Tigers, the end of his 12-year drought was widely reported by Los Angeles-area newspapers, both major Detroit papers, both wire services, USA Today and was mentioned by CNN, ESPN and television news reports in both L.A. and Detroit. Even Blyleven shrugged after the game and said he wasn't aware it had been that long since he had won in Tiger Stadium. Maybe that's because it hadn't even been 12 months Actually, Blyleven had won twice in Tiger Stadium since 1977. First, in the fifth game of the 1987 American League Championship Series and again last season, on Aug. 16, both times as a member of the Twins.
Greg Minton has not allowed a home run in his last 88 1/3 innings, a club record. Kirk McCaskill held the record (88), which was broken by Toronto rookie Junior Felix, who homered off McCaskill last Thursday on the first pitch of his first major league at-bat. Minton has made 40 appearances since Kansas City's Kurt Stillwell homered against him June 11 at Anaheim Stadium last season. Minton holds the major league record for consecutive innings without allowing a homer (269 1/3). Only one player--Johnny Ray--has hit more than one career home run off Minton.