The room was virtually dark, with the only illumination coming from the TV set. It wasn’t until 3, maybe even 4, in the morning, before the two roommates would fall asleep, talking sometimes until the newspaper hit their hotel door.
It was just a game Friday night, one of 162, but Angel pitcher Phil Leftwich and catcher Chris Turner talked about the Toronto Blue Jays as if cramming for a college entrance exam.
“I’ve prepared more for this start than any in my career,” Leftwich said. “We went over every guy in their lineup until we fell asleep the last few days. We knew exactly what we wanted to do.”
In a game that perhaps meant more than any in his life, Leftwich staggered the Blue Jays, leading the Angels to a 6-2 victory before 48,244 at the Skydome.
Leftwich (3-4) not only solidified his spot in the rotation--yielding seven hits and two earned runs in 7 1/3 innings--but virtually guaranteed something much more precious to him:
The continued company of his wife, Ann, who is 8 1/2 months pregnant.
“That’s who I worried about more than anything,” said Leftwich, 3-0 with a 2.51 earned-run average in his last five starts. “I could see it was affecting her. I mean, I could have handled being sent back to the minors, but that would have meant that Ann would have had to stay behind.
“That would have been tough.”
Angel Manager Marcel Lachemann conceded that when Brian Anderson returns to the rotation in 10 days, Leftwich will still be around.
“I don’t know if anybody could pitch better than he has the last two games,” Lachemann said. “If somebody can pitch better than that, we’re in pretty good shape.”
Anderson gave up two hits in five scoreless innings Friday against Class-A Stockton in his first start in rehabilitation.
The Angels have won seven of their last nine games to remain in first place, and although they have a 23-26 record, it’s the first time they have been this close to .500 since April 26.
“We can play with anybody in this league, and I think people are starting to realize that,” Angel second baseman Rex Hudler said. “Teams are looking at us differently now.
“You should have seen (Blue Jay center fielder) Devon White tonight. He slid hard into me at second, and I just said, ‘Bring it on. I love it. That’s the way to play the game.’
“He looked at me like I was nuts.”
Who could blame him? Who would have thought that two months into the season, the Angels would be sitting in first place and the Blue Jays would be 10 games out, their largest deficit in the American League East since July 5, 1989.
“That’s just unbelievable to me,” Leftwich said. “You look at that lineup and say, ‘My God.’ You know they’re going to take off eventually. You just don’t want to be around when they do.”
The Angels scored all six of their runs in the sixth inning with 10 batters.
It began with a walk by Tim Salmon and a single by Chili Davis. Bo Jackson hit a ground ball so hard that it skidded past second baseman Roberto Alomar and went past right fielder Joe Carter to the wall for a two-run double. Eduardo Perez, who hadn’t produced an extra-base hit since April 17, hit a run-scoring double. Chad Curtis hit a two-out, two-run single.
“I don’t know if my name is scratched off that (endangered) list,” Leftwich said, “but at least I’ve probably got an asterisk by it now. If you got the manager on your side, it’s hard to do something with you.
“I’m just glad I could finally show what I do after the start I had (0-4, 6.82 ERA). I don’t know what it is, but I did the same thing last year.
“Hopefully, I won’t have this problem every year. If so, I’ll start throwing scrimmage games in January.”