Leftwich Does Right by Angels

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Phil Leftwich knows it might soon be time to fill out those dreaded change-of-address cards. He glances at the locker stall to his left, sees the quick recovery by pitcher Mark Langston and has a hunch that it might be time to find his passport.

Langston is scheduled to return next week to the starting rotation, and unless there's a sudden change of plans, Leftwich will be traveling to the Angels' triple-A team in Vancouver, Canada, to make room.

Leftwich doesn't know if he changed anyone's mind Thursday, but maybe he at least provoked some thought, pitching the Angels to a 4-3 victory over the Oakland Athletics before 15,245 at Anaheim Stadium.

Leftwich pitched seven solid innings, yielding seven hits and three earned runs, before Craig Lefferts picked up his first American League save. The Angels are still without a complete game from a starting pitcher--their longest drought in any season in club history--but Leftwich hardly cared.

"I know things don't look too good for me," said Leftwich, who is 1-4 with a 6.27 earned-run average. "But I figured whatever happens, happens. I'm going to quit worrying about it.

"I'm tired of putting too much pressure on myself."

Angel Manager Buck Rodgers refused to say whether Leftwich's performance will affect his decision, but said, "I'll take any kind of difficult complications rather than have easy ones."

The victory was the Angels' second in a row after losing 10 of the previous 11. Despite their 11-18 record, they are only two games behind the first-place Texas Rangers in the American League West.

"We're so lucky to be in the division we're in, or else we'd be sucked down to the bottom by now," shortstop Gary DiSarcina said. "It's like everyone is stuck in quicksand.

"I personally think the worst is behind us. I mean, things have got to get better, don't they?"

Certainly, the Athletics (8-20) have been thinking the same, but only 17 months after winning their fourth division title in five years, they have the second-worst record in baseball.

Perhaps nothing exemplified the Athletics' performance more than their play in the fifth inning. The Athletics were starting to get to Leftwich. Geronimo Berroa began the inning with a homer to left center, and then with two out and runners on first and second, the Athletics had Rickey Henderson at the plate.

He never got a chance to hit. Scott Brosius wandered off second base, and catcher Jorge Fabregas picked him off for the final out. It was Fabregas' second pickoff of the game, and he also produced a hit, bringing his average to .375. His play has been so impressive that the Angels have already decided that barring a sudden collapse, Fabregas will be kept on the team when catcher Greg Myers returns from the disabled list.

"He's done everything you could possibly want," Rodgers said. "He's given every indication that he's ready to play up here."

Leftwich, who was 4-6 last season after being called up in July, figured he was ready to stay in the big leagues too. He was penciled in as the No. 3 starter this season, and the Angels were counting on him to win at least 12 games.

Instead, Leftwich failed to win any of his first five starts, yielding a whopping .328 batting average. The more he lost, the more he began pressuring himself. This time, he decided to quit worrying about his future, and a phone call from his college pitching coach at Radford University helped his confidence.

"I think once Mark (Langston) comes back, that's when you'll see a different team," DiSarcina said. "Mark just has that presence about him, he creates that state of fear."

Leftwich knows all about it.

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