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Buechele Regains His Hitting Touch

Times Staff Writer

For almost two weeks the Texas Rangers had been suffering through a power outage. During that 10-game span they had not hit a home run.

Steve Buechele might have killed for a streak of only that length.

What punch there was in Buechele’s bat had vanished. He had not hit a homer since May 20, a streak covering 41 games.

Ten games? Big deal.

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Thursday night, Buechele aided Nolan Ryan’s return to Anaheim Stadium with a seventh-inning home run that broke a scoreless tie--not to mention a couple of lengthy streaks.

“Nolan is who I’m really happy for,” Buechele said. “Him coming back here and winning at Anaheim Stadium is great. Not to make him sound old or anything, but when I was a kid my dad use to drive me to games here to watch Nolan pitch.”

This time, Buechele got to help Ryan with the victory.

He also singled and scored in the Rangers’ 3-0 victory.

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Not a bad night’s work for a guy whose batting average had been plummeting during the past 29 games.

A career .241 hitter, Buechele had gotten off to a fast start this season. He was hitting .273 on June 4, but since then has hit .179.

“Steve is a real hard worker, one of the hardest workers on the team,” Ranger Manager Bobby Valentine said. “Sometimes he works too hard. He starts pressing.”

And things had been rapidly getting worse. Buechele had only three hits in his past 20 at-bats entering Thursday’s game, and his average had dipped to .236.

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“I’ve been trying to stay a little bit back and see the ball before I react to it,” said Buechele, a graduate of Servite High School. “I would do that in batting practice just fine. Then I would get into the game and start making the same mistakes again.”

Buechele has remained persistent. He has been taking extra batting practice as well as working on his frame of mind.

“It’s a competition out there, I had forgotten that,” Buechele said. “It’s you against the pitcher.”

And Thursday the pitcher, Kirk McCaskill, lost.

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In the seventh, Buechele hit the first pitch over the 370-foot sign in left-center field. It was the first home run by the Rangers since Jeff Kunkel homered against Cleveland on June 24.

“I was trying to remember last night who had hit our last home run and I couldn’t,” Bobby Valentine said. “We had been looking for that part of our offense. When Steve hit that one, there was a little relief in the dugout.”

It’s not the first time Buechele has spoiled an evening for McCaskill.

In 1986 at Arlington Stadium, Buechele hit a third-inning homer, which was the only hit McCaskill allowed while beating the Rangers.

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“I guarantee you that Kirk has gotten me a lot more times than I’ve gotten him,” Buechele said. “Tonight he just got a fastball over the plate and up. I think he would have liked it back.”

Buechele’s homer was his fifth of the season and only his third extra-base hit in the past 32 games.

After Ruben Sierra homered to lead off the ninth, Buechele had a two-out single. He then scored on Jeff Kunkel’s double.

“I tell you, those two-hit games can do a lot for your confidence,” said Buechele, who has 58 career home runs. “Even if you hit the ball hard, you feel good. But when you’re grounding out and hitting little bloopers, it can really get you down. Tonight felt good.”

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Especially the home run.

“That felt like my first one of the season,” Buechele said. “It didn’t seem like I should have been the one to break the team’s streak, not with the way I had been going.”

Said Valentine: “Might as well have been Steve, no one else was hitting any.”


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