Brewers Spoil Return of Snow to Angels, 7-6

TIMES STAFF WRITER

J.T. Snow picked up a newspaper before leaving for his flight Saturday morning from Colorado Springs, Colo. He yanked out the sports section and immediately checked the pitching matchups.

He couldn't believe it. The Angels were to face the Milwaukee Brewers' Bill Wegman--who pitched the season-opener last year against the Angels. Snow hit a home run in his second at-bat of the 1993 season against Wegman, and by the end of April, was a household name in Southern California.

"It was like deja vu, " Snow said as the Angels lost to the Brewers, 7-6, in 11 innings before 23,952 at Anaheim Stadium. "I guess it was meant to be that this is my season opener."

There were few dramatics from Snow, who had two singles and made a sharp defensive play in his season debut. The Angels' Chad Curtis and Jim Edmonds each hit two-run homers, but John Jaha's run-scoring single in the 11th sent the Angels to their sixth consecutive loss after Turner Ward's two-out, two-run homer against Joe Grahe in the ninth had sent the game into extra innings.

With the presence of Snow, the Angels were hitting again, scoring one fewer run than in their last four games combined. And once again, reporters were back clamoring around Snow's locker.

"I told him that (he is) not here to carry this team," Angel Manager Marcel Lachemann said. " 'You're not here to do anything but be J.T. Snow.' "

Snow isn't about to ask any questions. The resentment and bitterness are gone.

"I've learned a lot, I'll say that," said Snow, who batted .296 at triple-A Vancouver with eight homers and 43 runs batted in. "I don't think anything surprises me anymore in this game."

The Angels acknowledge that perhaps it was a mistake to send Snow to Vancouver in the first place. Saturday, Angel General Manager Bill Bavasi said that perhaps he should have insisted that Snow open the season at first base and Eduardo Perez play at third.

"Maybe in hindsight," Bavasi said, "there were certain moves we should have made and didn't, and certain moves we shouldn't have made and did. We're now making moves that we should have made earlier."

Bavasi's biggest regret, he said, was that he didn't personally explore the possibility of Perez playing third base. He was told that a strained elbow ligament would preclude Perez from returning to third. The Angels tried Perez in left field this spring, and when that didn't work, their only option was first base.

It became clear three weeks ago to Bavasi, however, that this wasn't working. The team was simply making too many mistakes defensively, and changes were needed.

So he had a long talk with Dr. Lewis Yocum about Perez's elbow. Yocum assured him that Perez's elbow was no more endangered at third base than first base. The plan then became quite simple.

"I'm not second-guessing anyone but me," Bavasi said. "I'm not blaming Buck (Rodgers) or anyone else. I never felt comfortable at the minor league level moving guys around, and I don't feel comfortable now. That's poor development."

Bavasi and the Angel management simply decided the team could not win without making defensive changes. They no longer could live with the Dwight Smith-Bo Jackson platoon in left field, and the defense at first was lacking.

"I think our defense was very average, at best," Angel shortstop Gary DiSarcina said. "That's just one area where you can't afford to be average. When you're pitching isn't like it should be, defense is what lifts them up.

"And I think J.T. has a way of lifting everyone up."

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