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Everything Is Rosy When Blyleven Wins

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Bert Blyleven had hours to stare at the basket of 279 crimson roses his wife, Patty, had set near his locker--one rose for each major league victory Blyleven had earned in 23-plus seasons.

He also had hours to wonder if he would add the single long-stemmed rose she left in his locker for good luck before he attempted to earn his first victory in 22 months and first since undergoing two shoulder operations.

And so it was with a big smile and a proper sense of ceremony that Blyleven planted the 280th rose atop the massive bouquet after pitching seven shutout innings in the Angels’ 3-1 victory over the Cleveland Indians at Anaheim Stadium Saturday, played before a season-high crowd of 37,322.

“That’s probably the most nervous and most pressure I have ever been before a game,” the 41-year-old right-hander said. “That even tops the World Series. She put a lot of pressure on me.

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“If I’d gone out and pitched only a third of an inning, knowing she’d gone to all that trouble, she would have kicked my butt.”

Blyleven gave up three hits and his seven-strikeout performance tied him with Tom Seaver for third on the all-time strikeout list at 3,640.

“We purchased 250 tickets and invited a lot of close friends. I had to go out and pitch well tonight just to support her habit.”

Patty Blyleven’s other extravagance--distributing to the Angel players and staff T-shirts with her husband’s picture and the words, “Welcome back Bert"--heightened the drama for Blyleven, who was pitching at Anaheim Stadium for the first time since Aug. 10, 1990. When Blyleven congratulated Bryan Harvey for saving the game--Harvey gave up an unearned run in the eighth inning--he surprised Blyleven by revealing the T-shirt beneath his uniform.

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“When Bryan Harvey pulled his shirt off and had that T-shirt, that was really emotional,” said Blyleven, who ranks 26th on the all-time victory list.

“To me, age has never been a factor. I still feel I’m in my 50s--no, my 20s,” he added. “It’s been a lot of hard work, getting back in shape, but it’s all been worth it.”

Blyleven threw only 85 pitches but confessed to interim Manager John Wathan that he was tiring after six innings. He made it through the seventh, striking out Brook Jacoby and Mark Lewis to tie Seaver’s strikeout mark, before yielding to Harvey.

“I don’t think there’s enough superlatives to describe Bert Blyleven’s performance tonight,” Wathan said after the Angels ended their five-game losing streak. “It was a great moment for us, with all we’ve been going through, to have a game like this. We were all sky high, not only because of the (Friday team) meeting but out of respect for Bert Blyleven. . . .

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“I don’t think he has the velocity he had when he was a kid, but he’s a master at mixing his speeds, throwing strikes and knowing how to pitch.”

He pitched swiftly and efficiently, giving up singles to Jacoby in the second inning and Carlos Baerga in the sixth and a leadoff double to Sandy Alomar Jr. in the third.

“He didn’t shake me off more than three or four times,” catcher Ron Tingley said. “He kept everybody off balance and mixed his pitches. He was fantastic. You can’t ask any more out of a pitcher.”

The Angels staked him to a 2-0 lead in the third inning against Jack Armstrong (1-6) when Luis Polonia drew a two-out walk, Chad Curtis singled and Von Hayes dumped a triple down the right-field line.

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They extended that lead to 3-0 in the seventh on singles by Lee Stevens and Gary Gaetti, a fielder’s choice and Gary DiSarcina’s single off the glove of second baseman Baerga and into left field.

“We didn’t score a lot of runs for him, but it was enough,” said Wathan, who recalled having little success hitting against Blyleven during his playing career. “If you’re going to write a story for his comeback, with the surgery and everything, you couldn’t write it better than this.”

Harvey, who has struggled lately, was specially determined to save the victory for Blyleven. “There’s no way I was going to let that one get away,” he said after his 13th save in 15 opportunities.

Because of his effort, Blyleven will get another start. Wathan had planned to skip his next turn but happily changed his rotation.

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The pressure now is on Patty Blyleven to come up with 281 roses for her husband’s next start. Said Blyleven: “I don’t think my bank account can afford that.”


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