McCaskill Gives Angels Win, Scare

Times Staff Writer

Kirk McCaskill looked up from his seat in the corner of the Angel clubhouse, noticed the crowd forming around his locker and decided it best to beat the onrushing horde to the punch.

“Cramp, cramp, cramp,” he announced to everyone holding note pad and pen. “It was only a cramp.”

You can’t be too sure or too careful about the Angel pitching staff these days, not when McCaskill becomes the club’s second starter in five days to prematurely exit a game due to a sudden twinge of pain.

The first, Chuck Finley, is on the disabled list, possibly lost for the season.

And when McCaskill started to wince and hold his left side during the seventh inning of Friday night’s 4-1 victory over the Texas Rangers at Arlington Stadium, it was enough to induce an entirely different kind of pain in Angel Manager Doug Rader.

“I didn’t think it was serious or nothing,” Rader deadpanned. “Just a herniated disk.”

McCaskill had given up a 445-foot home run to Steve Buechele and was working to Rick Leach with a runner on base when he had to walk off the mound for a moment, gripping his lower left back.

In an instant, Angel pitching coach Marcel Lachemann was at the mound on a fact-finding mission, warily eyeing his pitcher before giving him the OK to press ahead.

McCaskill threw two more pitches--both balls--and that was it. With the count full, Lachemann returned to the mound and brought Greg Minton with him.

“It turned out to be only a cramp,” Rader said, “but I didn’t want to take a chance. My initial reaction was not good because of the things that have happened to us lately.

“You start getting jumpy. Every time I see a guy limp now, I get the heebie-jeebies.”

McCaskill didn’t exactly see his season flash before his eyes, but this is a pitcher who spent the last month of both the 1987 and 1988 regular seasons on the disabled list. So, yes, he worried for a second or two.

“I can’t say it didn’t run through my mind briefly,” McCaskill said. “I was surprised to get a brief stab of pain there. I was kind of stiff all day and then I got these little stabs of pain that didn’t start until the seventh inning.”

McCaskill has experienced periodic back problems this summer, which have cut short a few starts, but claimed this bit of discomfort was unrelated.

“It could’ve been a lot of things,” he said. “The change in hotel beds, us getting in late last night. . . . It was just a muscle twinge or whatever you want to call it. It just prevented me from following through on my pitches.”

McCaskill (14-7) was bidding for a second consecutive shutout through six innings before Buechele unloaded his 14th home run of the season with one out in the seventh. It was a most impressive blast, too, streaking through the Arlington humidity and bouncing halfway up the left-field bleachers, officially measured at 445 feet.

That’s the third-longest home run to be hit at Arlington Stadium this year. Texas outfielder Pete Incaviglia reached the 450-foot mark three weeks ago and in May, Kansas City’s Bo Jackson established a stadium record with a 461-foot shot.

So, Buechele is in good company. And McCaskill helped get him there.

Was McCaskill cramping during that at-bat as well?

Oh, yeah, " McCaskill said with a laugh. “Of course.”

At that point, the Angels still led, 4-1. But when the next batter, Jeff Kunkel, reached base on an error by shortstop Kent Anderson, followed by McCaskill’s wavering against Leach, Rader decided it was time to preserve a victory that would move the Angels back within one game of Oakland in the American League West.

The first-place Athletics lost to Kansas City, 3-1, Friday night.

Minton inherited a full-count to Leach and threw one ball to walk him. But then he struck out Jack Daugherty and retired Fred Manrique on a fly to left, quelling the threat.

After that followed two perfect innings and Minton’s eighth save of the season, one more than his 1988 total.

The Angels scored all the runs they needed in the sixth inning. For the first five, Texas starter Bobby Witt (10-11) had matched McCaskill, scoreless inning for scoreless inning, giving up three singles.

But in the top of the seventh, he walked Devon White, Johnny Ray and Wally Joyner to load the bases with one out. After Chili Davis popped up for the second out, Witt embarked against Brian Downing, the Angels’ slumping designated hitter, whose fifth-inning single ended a four-for-42 drought.

This time, Witt worked the count full again before Downing lined a double barely inside third base, clearing the bases and giving the Angels a 3-0 lead.

A single and a stolen base by White, coupled by a two-base error by center fielder Kunkel on a fly ball by Claudell Washington, accounted for the Angels’ other run in the seventh inning.

The streaking Angels were swinging in the right direction once again. After losing three straight in Kansas City after winning five straight in Anaheim, the Angels have now won their last two.

McCaskill credited Thursday night’s winning pitcher, Bert Blyleven, for paving his way.

“It does take a lot of pressure off the guy who pitches after Bert when he does stop one of those streaks,” McCaskill said. “What Bert has done this year is phenomenal. It’s an entirely different deal--breaking a losing streak as opposed to following up.”

True, but as far as the Angels are concerned, it sure beats following up Chuck Finley en route to the disabled list.

Angel Notes

Terry Clark arrived from Edmonton Friday to fill Chuck Finley’s spot on the roster--and, for a while, his turn in the rotation. Clark starts tonight’s game for the Angels, facing the Rangers’ Charlie Hough. “It’s nice to be up here and be able to pitch in a pennant race,” said Clark, who was 6-6 with a 5.07 earned-run average in three months with the 1988 Angels. “Last year, I came up here in July and we were already 19 games out.” Clark will be pitching on seven days’ rest, coming off an eight-inning no decision (three runs, two earned) last weekend against Phoenix. He claims the change in temperature will be more difficult to deal with than the change in the significance of this start. “It was 50 degrees in Edmonton,” said Clark, who had watched Kirk McCaskill endure 95-degree weather for 6 1/3 innings. “If I have to go out there and give up eight runs while we get nine, that’ll be fine with me.”

Dan Petry didn’t get Finley’s berth in the Angels’ rotation, but he will get a start next week, thanks to Tuesday’s makeup doubleheader in Boston. Rader said Friday that Petry would pitch in one of the games but was still undecided whether to start Jim Abbott or Bert Blyleven in the second. Abbott would be working on five days’ rest, Blyleven on four. . . . Devon White stole three bases Friday night, his second three-steal night of the season. White has 39 for the season, ranking him third in the league behind Oakland’s Rickey Henderson and Texas’ Cecil Espy. . . . Dick Schofield had the cast removed from his left wrist Friday, replacing it with a removable splint that will allow him to begin light exercises. Schofield will have the hand re-examined when the Angels return home, but is expected to be sidelined for at least two more weeks.