Angels Keep Sliding On and Off the Field : Royals Hand Them Third Loss in Row

Times Staff Writer

A rookie-of-the-year award isn't won in one night, but in Wednesday's matchup of the most eligible starters in the American League, Tom Gordon moved well ahead of Jim Abbott.

Born two months apart, Kansas City's Gordon and the Angels' Abbott are now six victories apart, after Gordon's 16th victory of 1989, a 6-4 Royal win before 32,843 at Royals Stadium.

Gordon (16-4) restricted the Angels to three hits in seven innings, striking out eight and walking two. When he crossed the 100-pitch barrier and was instructed to hand the baseball to reliever Steve Crawford, Gordon left with a 6-1 lead--a testament to the type of troubles Abbott has encountered of late.

Now 1-3 in August, Abbott surrendered two runs in the first inning, left the bases loaded in the third and, finally, left the game in the fifth after serving up a two-run home run to Kurt Stillwell, Kansas City's slap-hitting shortstop.

For Abbott (10-9), it marked the fourth time in five starts that he was unable to complete six innings. Twice in that span, he didn't get out of the fourth and on this evening, he lasted a mere 4 2/3 innings.

Making matters worse for Abbott, his defeat extended the Angels' losing streak to three games and the Royals' winning streak to nine. This tale of two rookies had substantial impact on the AL West standings, with the Angels slipping three games behind the first-place Oakland Athletics for the first time since June 22.

Kansas City, meanwhile, remains in third place, still trailing the Athletics by 4 1/2 games but moving to within 1 1/2 games of the Angels.

Only veteran Bert Blyleven--breaker of seven-game and five-game Angel losing streaks--stands between the Royals' completion of a four-game sweep tonight.

"You hate to go to the well too many times," Angel Manager Doug Rader said. "But, you just keep hoping Bert can continue to respond. He's been there for us before. Hopefully, he will be again."

Wednesday's game began hopefully for the Angels. Devon White, the first batter of the night, drove a ball into the gap in left-center and, shifting into full sprint, turned it into a triple.

Kansas City second baseman Frank White fielded the outfield relay and, realizing that he had no play, appeared to try to hold up, but the ball slid out of his hands and sailed high over third baseman Kevin Seitzer's head. It skipped into the visitors' dugout, allowing White to score and giving Gordon a 1-0 deficit.

Another Angel didn't hit safely until the fifth inning. And by then, Gordon was working with a 2-1 lead, courtesy of Abbott's early struggles.

As soon as Gordon retired the side in the top of the first, the Royals' offense went to work on Abbott. Seitzer beat out an infield single and stole second. One out later, George Brett singled home Seitzer and stole second himself.

One out after that, Jim Eisenreich singled home Brett and a lead had switched hands.

Abbott loaded the bases in the third inning--he walked Bo Jackson and Danny Tartabull and yielded another single to Eisenreich--but skirted further damage until the fifth, where things got ugly for the Angels in a hurry.

Brett led off with a double. Jackson followed with a walk. When Brett tagged and took third on a long fly out by Eisenreich, second base was left open for Jackson--which Bo stole, giving him 25 steals this season.

Brett scored on a ground ball to shortstop by Tartabull, making the score 3-1. Abbott then faced Stillwell and quickly moved ahead in the count, 0-and-2.

But it was the second strike that ultimately did him in.

Stillwell fouled it off, flaring the ball toward the right-field seats. Angel first baseman Wally Joyner gave chase but first ran into the rolled tarpaulin and then encountered the arms of a fan, reaching over the railing for the baseball.

Amid the chaos, Joyner failed to make the catch. He protested briefly to first base umpire Al Clark, pleading interference, but the consequence was another swing for Stillwell.

And that was all Stillwell needed. He sent Abbott's next pitch into the left-field seats for a two-run home run and a 5-1 Kansas City advantage. It was the sixth home run of the season for the switch-hitting Stillwell--and his first while batting right-handed.

"That was the bottom line," Rader said. "Stillwell hits an 0-and-2 pitch. Wally might have had a play on the ball, although (the interference) was not overwhelmingly flagrant. It came down to the 0-and-2 pitch the kid threw there. It was a bad pitch."

Gordon, by contrast, did not allow another run. He gave up a triple to Claudell Washington in the fifth inning and a double to Joyner in the sixth but left both runners stranded. The Angels scored their other runs on a three-run home run by Joyner against Crawford in the eighth inning.

"A pretty good little right-hander," was Joyner's postgame assessment of Gordon. "He's got a good curveball, real good stuff overall, gets the outs when he needs them. And, he won the game."

That just about covers it.

And, finally, a few words from the competition, Abbott, who's beginning to fall back to the rest of the pack in the rookie-of-the-year field:

"If you step back and look at what I've done from a different perspective, we're still talking about this being my first year, I'm still learning a lot, I'm still learning the league, and it's a tough league.

"No one said I was going to come in and dominate it. So, I can take solace in that and work from there."

That seemed a fine way to look at things, at least until Abbott began to look at Gordon, who, at two months his junior, has won his last five starts and is bidding to win 20 games at age 21.

"Maybe he can dominate," Abbott added glumly. "Maybe it's just not in the cards for me."

Angel Notes

Add Jim Abbott: In light of the rookie pitcher's recent struggles, Angel Manager Doug Rader was asked if he would consider letting Abbott skip a start and get away from the late August pressure for a while. Rader's response was no, basically for two reasons. One, Rader already has one pitcher, Chuck Finley, out of the rotation. And, two, Rader said: "There's no panic involved with Jim. If he was being troubled by an emotional thing or fatigue, I would (skip him). But there's not a single lesson that comes easily, and you can't sell that man short. He has the intestinal fortitude we wish we all had. He'll work through it. To take a start away from him, I don't think, would be productive. I don't see any value in it."

Neither the Angels nor the Royals will enter September with their pitching staff at full strength. Kansas City reliever Steve Farr beat Finley to the disabled list by a couple of days and is scheduled to undergo arthroscopic surgery to repair torn cartilage in his right knee. Farr, the Royals' save leader with 17, will be replaced on the roster by left-handed pitcher Jerry Don Gleaton, who was recalled from triple-A Omaha. Gleaton was 0-0 with an 8.22 ERA with the Royals earlier this season. At Omaha, he was 3-3 with four saves and a 1.27 ERA. . . . Bo Jackson left Wednesday's game in the seventh inning after twisting his right knee while chasing Claudell Washington's triple in the fifth inning. That, however, didn't stop Bo from stealing second base in the bottom of the fifth, making him a 25-25 man for the second consecutive season. Kansas City Manager John Wathan said he expected Jackson back in the lineup for tonight's series finale.

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