Angels Break Up a Terrible Trip

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The journey second baseman Rene Gonzales called "the road trip from hell" took a pleasant turn Saturday.

Gonzales helped steer the Angels to their second victory in eight games when he lined a bases-loaded triple into the right-field corner in the first inning, touching off a 6-2 trouncing of Rick Sutcliffe and the Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

First baseman Lee Stevens, no longer hampered by the sore ribs he suffered in Thursday's bus accident, made the night easier for Mark Langston (5-1) when he slammed a two-run, 430-foot home run in the third inning.

"I'd have to say this was probably close to the longest homer I've ever hit," Stevens said. "We don't have 'tale-of-the-tape' in the minor leagues."

The Angels' trip began with two shutout losses in Boston, continued with three consecutive defeats in New York before Thursday's accident and dragged on with a series-opening loss in Baltimore Friday. But Langston's strong seven-inning, six-strikeout effort, two perfect relief innings from Mark Eichhorn and an offensive push in which every starter had a hit made Saturday a happy interlude.

"With everything that's gone on, and so many distractions that we have right now, it's difficult to concentrate," said Langston, the winning pitcher in the Angels' other victory on this trip, last Sunday at Boston. "What we went through is something I wish nobody ever goes through. My thoughts and prayers are with the guys who had to go back (to Southern California), and I hope they're back as soon as possible.

"This is a big win," added Langston, who hasn't lost since opening day. "Obviously, with everything that's gone on, everybody's thinking about the guys who had to go back. I feel fortunate I got six runs tonight. Jim Abbott could easily have stopped the (losing) streak if we'd scored him some runs. We've kind of been struggling to score runs, and when you get six runs, it takes all the pressure off you."

The three-run first inning, created when Chad Curtis and Junior Felix singled, Stevens walked and Gonzales hit his two-out triple, was the first time in 68 innings the Angels had scored more than two runs in an inning. "Getting in front early was important," said Gonzales, whose 18 RBIs equals the personal best he set in 1988 with the Orioles. "Our offense has been kind of unproductive lately, and being productive helped our confidence."

They enjoyed the outburst so much, they decided to do it again in the third inning. Von Hayes doubled and scored ahead of Stevens' blast, which bounced once before hitting the red-brick warehouse behind right field. Gaetti homered to left, his third of the season and first since April 28, and got to keep the ball when the fans in the left-field seats threw it back.

"One of the great things about our club is we've got great pitching, and if we swing the bats like we did earlier, we should be able to put a little streak together," interim Manager John Wathan said after his first victory with the Angels and first as a manager since last May 21 with Kansas City.

"I tell you, after the way we've been struggling to score runs, this is great. Gonzo got a big hit and Stevens hit the ball as far as I've ever seen him hit one. With six runs and the way Langston was pitching, I felt pretty good about our situation."

In addition to handing the Orioles their fifth loss in six games, Stevens' first two-RBI game of the season helped him keep his job. Wathan acknowledged he was thinking of starting Hubie Brooks at first base today, in the finale of the nine-game trip, but will keep Stevens in the lineup. That decision was based not just on Stevens' homer, but also on his selectivity in drawing his first-inning walk.

Stevens, who is hitting .205, hit a sinker from Sutcliffe in the third inning.

"It's a special thing. The instant before you hit it, you know it's going out," he said of his first homer since April 21. "You hit it just perfect, and right from the second you hit it, you know it's going out. . . . One at-bat or one hit can program you and get your swing back or your focus back. It's always been that way for me. I'm not going to say I'm going to start hitting .400 the rest of the season, but every time you get a hit, it's a confidence builder."

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