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Chicago’s LaValliere Happily Swats Angels’ Pitching

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Et tu Spanky?

Yep, that’s the way it goes for the 1994 Angels. Ahead, 5-3, in the top of the ninth inning, the Angels gave up a two-run, game-tying homer to Chicago catcher Mike (Spanky) LaValliere, his first in the American League and only the 17th in 2,365 major league at-bats.

Sunday’s game went to extra innings tied, 5-5, before the White Sox went on to hammer Angel relievers Joe Magrane and Joe Grahe for five runs in the 12th. Final score: Chicago 10, Angels 5.

At game’s end, LaValliere happily walked to the visiting clubhouse where he was greeted by the home run ball hanging by a wire from the ceiling.

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“And they said it couldn’t be done,” an attached note read.

“I had a little bet with him that he wouldn’t hit a home run this season,” Chicago pitcher Kirk McCaskill said. “There was something else (money) attached to it, but he ripped that off already.”

The White Sox, trailing, 5-1, after three innings, viewed LaValliere’s homer as a harbinger of better things to come.

“Spanky was the man,” second baseman Joey Cora said. “The odds of Spanky hitting a bomb are pretty slim, so when he does that you have to figure that’s a good sign.”

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It took a while, but Cora eventually drove in what would be the winning run with a single in the 12th off Magrane.

Four more runs were mere insurance. The Angels seemed lifeless after LaValliere’s first home run since Aug. 22, 1992, when he was with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

“I got good backspin on it,” LaValliere said of the 3-and-2 fastball he hit off reliever Russ Springer with one out in the ninth. “The ball was carrying good today. I don’t hit that many (homers), so I don’t know how they feel leaving the bat. But judging from batting practice, I felt like it had a chance.”

There didn’t seem to be much doubt about it. The ball appeared to jump from LaValliere’s bat, zooming toward the wall in right-center field.

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Angel center fielder Chad Curtis sprinted after it, perhaps thinking it would land short and he could hold the slow-running LaValliere to a double. But soon enough, Curtis slowed to a trot, watching helplessly as the ball sailed over the wall.

“Just a way to contribute to a win,” said LaValliere, who was signed by Chicago as a free agent last year. LaValliere was playing Sunday because Ron Karkovice and Ron Tingley are on the disabled list.

Chicago Manager Gene Lamont chuckled when someone mentioned LaValliere’s feat.

“The ball was carrying,” Lamont said. “I don’t want to slight his home run, but you saw (Tim) Salmon’s home run.”

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Indeed, Salmon’s two-run homer in the third seemed at first to be nothing more than a routine fly ball to left field. But Tim Raines kept drifting back . . . back . . . back, until he ran out of room and the ball cleared the fence.

“The way we came back, if we still lost, I still would have been proud of the team,” Lamont said.

LaValliere’s homer simply gave the White Sox another crack at the faulty Angel bullpen. And you ought to know what that can mean by now.


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