BASEBALL / STEVE HENSON : King of the Hill Helps White Sox in Climb to Top of Heap in AL West

King is dead! Long live King!

Gone is the Eric King who sulked through his last two seasons with the Detroit Tigers as a pitcher without a clearly defined role.

Hail the Eric King who is second among American League starters in earned-run average (2.18) and who willingly accepts starting every five or six days for the Chicago White Sox.

There is nothing like steady work as far as King (8-1) is concerned, even if it is not quite as frequent as he would prefer. And a large part of the White Sox's transformation from a last-place team into a viable contender in the American League West can be attributed to his effectiveness.

"I'm happy with the way things worked out," King said after defeating the Angels, 5-2, Wednesday at Anaheim Stadium. "We're showing people what kind of team we are, if they are skeptics."

King, who pitched at Royal High and Moorpark College before signing with the Tigers in 1983, became skeptical and downright cynical of his treatment in Detroit. After posting an 11-4 record as a rookie starter in 1986, he was moved to the bullpen. King accepted the move initially, but as time wore on, his patience wore thin.

Finally he was traded to Chicago before the 1989 season for infielder Kenny Williams. King was 9-10 with a 3.39 ERA last season despite missing a month because of a sore shoulder.

The White Sox are pitching King, 26, every five or six days in an effort to get a complete season out of him. It has worked so far; King has started 14 games and the White Sox have won 12 of them. They lost by one run in the other two.

"He doesn't like it but I'd rather have him be 15-4 than 12-12 and missing three and a half weeks going through rehab," said Sammy Ellis, the White Sox pitching coach. "I think there's a good chance he'll be 15-4--or better."

Add Chisox: Picking up his third save in King's victory Wednesday was Scott Radinsky, a left-hander from Simi Valley High who is only the second pitcher in a decade to make the jump from Class A to the major leagues.

The other is Dwight Gooden.

"I was hoping to go from A ball to triple A," Radinsky said. "I thought that would be a pretty big jump."

Not only did he make the jump, Radinsky, 22, landed squarely on his feet. He is 5-0 with a 2.15 ERA.

Last add Chisox: Two other White Sox pitchers--starter Jack McDowell and reliever Wayne Edwards--are from the region.

McDowell, 24, pitched at Notre Dame High and led Stanford to the College World Series championship in 1987. He has battled back from injuries and difficulties with his mechanics to post a 5-4 record and 3.69 ERA this season.

Edwards, 26, who played baseball and football at Village Christian, gained an advantage when the White Sox dropped him from their 40-man roster last winter. The move enabled him to participate in spring training when owners locked out major league players during negotiations for a new Basic Agreement.

"I got to go (to spring training) ahead of the major league guys and get my arm tuned up," said Edwards, who has a 2.39 ERA in 37 2/3 innings. "It gave me a head start."

Big scare: Kansas City Royals shortstop Kurt Stillwell complained of back pain after getting two hits Tuesday against the Seattle Mariners and had to be carried off the team bus at the hotel. Doctors in Seattle recommended that he undergo back surgery to correct a bulging disk.

But an examination Saturday revealed Stillwell had a small kidney stone. Stillwell could be back in the lineup today.

"When I had blood in my urine, it pretty well pointed to a kidney stone," Stillwell said. "All I know is I was in serious pain from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday. That day was pretty much a blur."

Stillwell, 25, a graduate of Thousand Oaks High, is batting .298 with 28 runs batted in in 67 games.

Nasty Boy to be?: Thanks to Norm Charlton and Rob Dibble, middle relief is fashionable in the Cincinnati Reds organization. All of which puts Bobby Ayala, a hard-throwing right-hander from Rio Mesa High, on the cutting edge.

Ayala began the season as a starter at Cedar Rapids (Iowa) of the Class-A Midwest League, but he pitched so well that he was shipped off to the bullpen in Charleston, (W. Va.) of the Class-A South Atlantic League.

Only with Cincinnati is this considered a promotion.

"They brought me here because they see me in the years to come as a short man," said Ayala, who was 3-2 with a 3.38 ERA in 53 innings at Cedar Rapids. "I wasn't upset. I can come in and throw hard. I think I'll make it."

Ayala, a Times All-Ventura County choice in 1988, was signed that summer as a free agent after attending an all-comers tryout at Thousand Oaks High.

"I've picked up a lot of speed since high school and have good control of my slider and split-finger," Ayala said.

What Nasty Boys are made of.

Well-kept secret: An effective Secret Service agent goes unnoticed until he is needed. Then, zap! He hurls himself into action.

Rick Langford, who aspires to the Secret Service, used a similar routine to land a free-agent contract with the Cincinnati Reds on Friday. The former Simi Valley High right-handed pitcher was lying low when the opportunity arose to pitch to Reds scout Chuck Fick, who is also a catcher in the Senior Professional Baseball Assn.

Zap! Langford hurled 87-m.p.h. fastballs, which earned him an assignment on the Reds Rookie League team in Plant City, Fla.

It's all a sudden turn of events for Langford (6-4, 195), who did not play baseball this year after graduating from Simi Valley in 1989. Although hampered by a sore arm as a senior, he was 7-1 with a 1.68 earned-run average and 70 strikeouts in 58 innings.

"Rick pitched in a Simi alumni game May 12 and totally overpowered our team," said Mike Scyphers, the Simi Valley coach. Scyphers ran into Fick at a playoff game and suggested that Langford deserved a tryout.

One look was all it took.

Long ride: The brush fires in Santa Barbara closed the 101 Freeway for much of the day Wednesday, causing the Valley Rangers semi-pro team to detour nearly 200 miles on a return trip from Santa Maria.

The Rangers lost in the first round of the National Baseball Congress Central California tournament in Santa Maria on Wednesday, but their ordeal was only beginning.

"We left Santa Maria at 10:10 p.m. and got home just before six o'clock in the morning," said Frank Des Enfants, the Rangers' coach. "They sent us to Lompoc, past the Vandenberg Air Force Base and all the way to Bakersfield, where we took the Interstate 5 back to L.A."

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