The Chill Is Gone for Chili : Angels: Cleanup hitter ends cold spell with game-winning homer against Yankees, 3-1.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Chili Davis was running as hard as he could Thursday when he rounded first base, looked into the sky, and saw the most beautiful sight he has witnessed in weeks.

The baseball, the very one he had just hit, was sailing over the left-center-field fence at Yankee Stadium. At that precise moment, Davis said, he regained his appetite, knew he would finally get a good night's sleep, and believed that all was right in the world again.

It has been that kind of slump.

Davis' two-run homer in the eighth inning off Yankee reliever Steve Howe gave the Angels a 3-1 victory, allowing them to remain in first place and easing a burden that had been tearing Davis apart.

"It's been pretty rough," said Davis, who had had only a single and double in his last 26 at-bats, and had struck out a dozen times. "People were wondering how I was losing this weight, thinking I was dieting or something.

"Hey, man, I just couldn't eat. When you're going like I was, you can't sleep, you can't eat because the food doesn't taste worth a damn."

Davis, the veteran cleanup hitter in the Angels' young lineup, felt more miserable by the day. It was bad enough that he wasn't hitting, but he also felt responsible for No. 3 hitter J.T. Snow's slump.

The way he figured it, pitchers no longer feared him. Instead of taking their chances with Snow, as they had the first three weeks of the season, it appeared to Davis that they were now pitching around him.

"If you struggle behind J.T., he's not going to get any pitches to hit," Davis said. "And that's what's been happening.

"The thing is, I've been feeling great, too. I wish I was hurt, so at least I'd have an excuse, but I've never felt better.

"When you're struggling like I have, you try to do too much, instead of being patient. You'd think I'd know better after all these years, but no."

Davis became so tormented that he vented his frustration Wednesday night by shattering a light fixture in the tunnel to the clubhouse, jumping up and kicking the light off the wall.

"At least I was smart enough not to hit it with my hand," he said.

It appeared that more light fixtures might be in jeopardy during Thursday's game when Davis failed to get a hit in his first three at-bats off Yankee starter Mike Witt.

Witt, facing his former team for the first time, gave up six hits and one run through the first seven innings. But Yankee Manager Buck Showalter, believing that Witt had pitched enough, replaced him in the eighth with Howe.

Howe's problems started with a one-out walk to Snow, but he then threw two fastballs by Davis, and tried to strike him out on a fastball on the inside part of the plate.

Snow said: "I was just standing there when (first-base coach) Bobby Knoop told me, 'Don't do anything stupid. Don't get picked off. Because Chili is going to hit a homer right now.' "

Davis, seeing the fastball drift over the middle of the plate, swung and drove it toward the fence.

Snow stood at home plate waiting for Davis. They slapped palms and walked back to the dugout together. It was only the Angels' second victory in the seven-game trip, but they return home still in first place with a 15-10 record.

Snow has not allowed his slump to affect his defense. He robbed Don Mattingly of a double in the fourth inning and Pat Kelly of a triple in the fifth with diving plays.

The victory perhaps was as gratifying to Angel starter Scott Sanderson (4-1) as it was to Davis. Sanderson was released by the Yankees in the off-season. He tormented his former teammates the entire game with a dazzling array of off-speed pitches. He yielded only five hits and no walks in eight innings, throwing 70 strikes among his 98 pitches.

Steve Frey pitched a 1-2-3 ninth inning for his second save.

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