Mike Witt’s quest for the elusive shutout ran afoul again Saturday afternoon, which, it could be argued, also happened to the hit that produced the New York Yankees’ only run in a 6-1 loss to the Angels.
By many accounts, Mike Pagliarulo’s fifth-inning home run down the left-field line actually left the field in foul territory. Angel left fielder Chili Davis thought so. Angel Manager Doug Rader thought so. Witt thought so.
Television replays corroborated these thoughts, showing Pagliarulo’s long fly ball sailing just outside the left-field foul pole.
But third-base umpire Tim Welke thought differently. Welke gave a quick home-run signal and waved Pagliarulo around the bases, just as quickly waving goodby to Witt’s latest shutout bid.
Can Witt not catch a break or what?
Consider his last three starts:
--April 30 against Toronto, Witt pitches 10 scoreless innings and winds up with no decision as the Angels win in 11, 1-0.
--May 6 against Toronto, Witt takes a 3-0 lead into the eighth inning before the Blue Jays score four times to knock him out of the game. The Angels rally to win, 5-4, but Witt is left holding another no-decision.
--And then there was Saturday. Eight innings without a blemish, a sterling five-hitter, but again no shutout, at least in the eyes of umpire Welke.
Witt, getting used to the feeling, opted for the betterment of his state of mind and chose to look on the bright side.
At least this time, he said, he got the victory.
“We won the game. That’s the big thing,” said Witt (3-3). " . . . Whether I get a shutout or not is not important. It may be important in the long run, but as far as how we’re playing right now, me pitching well is the biggest thing.”
Still, more than a few fans in Anaheim Stadium’s left-field corner were pulling for the shutout--and weren’t about to let Welke forget it. For the rest of the game, mocking chants of “Fair, Fair” accompanied any ball sprayed foul and out of play.
Rader left the dugout to protest the call, but later, in the company of notepads and tape recorders, he decided to tread lightly on the subject.
“If he missed it, he missed it,” Rader said. “The guy was trying. He thought it was fair; the replay showed, maybe, otherwise.
“I don’t want to open a can of worms. He was doing his best and his opinion carries more weight than mine.”
The question was put to Witt--fair or foul--and Witt had to side with the shutout.
“Maybe (it was foul),” Witt said. “We’ll never know. The guy called what he saw--actually, two guys called what they saw. I saw what they saw and I thought it was foul.”
So did Davis, who had the closest view of the ball.
“A foul ball,” Davis proclaimed. “It was a couple feet foul. If you watched the people who caught the ball, they were in foul territory.
“But, it’s over with. What the hell. He blew the call and I think he knows it. . . . The fans were on him the whole day. He doesn’t need me to get on him, too.”
“If I was in Pags’ shoes,” he said, “I’d take it.”
So would the man seated in front of Pags’ locker, taking off Pags’ shoes.
“I didn’t see it, but they called it fair, so I guess it was fair,” Pagliarulo said with a smile. “You say it was foul, but I say it was fair.”
And about that television replay?
“I didn’t care to look at it,” Pagliarulo said. “Sometimes, television can fool you.”
Yes, ignorance can be bliss.
Once Pagliarulo was officially credited with his first home run of the season, Witt set about setting the Yankees down. Witt retired the next nine hitters in a row, yielding only two singles--to Don Slaught in the eighth inning and Steve Sax in the ninth--the rest of the way.
He also yielded one more deep fly ball, this one to center field by Jesse Barfield, but the Angels’ Devon White nullified it with a leaping catch against the wall.
“That was a great play,” Witt said. “From where I was on the mound, I thought it had a chance to be a home run. I’m sure Jesse thought the same thing.”
So, maybe things do even out after all.
Rader claimed to be satisfied solely with the end result--a victory that ended a two-game Angel losing streak.
“Witt is our No. 1 guy and today was a golden opportunity for him to show it,” Rader said. “We’d lost two in a row and he comes in and shuts those guys down.
“That lends credence to our feeling that’s he’s our No. 1. He stopped a two-game skid in an exceptional way.”
It might have been a little more exceptional, if not for Pagliarulo’s ball and Welke’s call.
“I made a good pitch to Pagliarulo,” Witt maintained. “The pitch ended up where I wanted it to. Well, it was where I wanted it (in the strike zone). It really didn’t end up where I wanted it.”
On second thought . . .
“Actually, it might have,” he said with a grin.
In Witt’s mind, if not in the record book, the shutout would be his.
Doug Rader isn’t the only Angel working on a new image. Last year, Chili Davis blasted a few American League umpires early on and believes he paid for it on ball-and-strike calls the rest of the season. Thus, he discussed Mike Pagliarulo’s controversial home run with care. “I’m trying to establish a rapport ,” Davis said, smiling. “I don’t mess with you, you don’t mess with me. Last year was tough enough.” . . . Mike Witt has added a new pitch to his repertoire--the forkball--but admits its development remains in the embryonic stage. “I don’t even know if you could call it breaking it in,” Witt said. “It’s more of an experiment. I’ve been throwing two pitches all my life. This is going to take some time.” Saturday, Witt said he threw three forkballs. “I threw one to (Don) Mattingly and he lined to right,” Witt said. “Then I threw a couple to Pagliarulo on that at-bat. I came back with a fastball and that’s the pitch he hit.”
Third baseman Jack Howell had his left hand examined by specialist Dr. Norman Zemel, who diagnosed the injury as a contusion, or deep bruise. The hand is still swollen, so Rader started Glenn Hoffman in Howell’s place. “They taped him up and he could’ve played defense,” Rader said. “But we’re going to wait a few days on him. We want to be absolutely sure it’s not broken.” . . . Johnny Ray drove in half the Angels’ runs with a first-inning ground-out and a two-run single in the third. Bill Schroeder, starting at first base in place of Wally Joyner, added a solo home run, his second of the season, with Davis and Dante Bichette contributing RBI singles. . . . Rader was discussing Witt’s tendency to “bear down too much” and concluded, “I’d rather have that, someone who goes at it ultrahard, than someone who goes out there in a state of malaise, in a very placid way.” One reporter stopped writing and told Rader he’d never heard the word malaise uttered in a baseball clubhouse. Rader shrugged. “Malaise,” he repeated. “That’s the stuff you put on bread, isn’t it?”